Phone Bill Cramming: How to Detect and Protect Yourself from This Tricky Scam

Phone Bill Cramming: How to Detect and Protect Yourself from This Tricky Scam


Have you ever taken a look at your phone bill, only to have your brain explode shortly after? There’s no shame in admitting this. Phone bills are a confusing mess. In fact, most people pay their bills via auto-draft just so they don’t have to look at it.

However, there is one reason why you might want to look at your phone bill periodically: to detect phone bill cramming. Continue reading to learn what phone bill cramming is and how you can protect yourself from this tricky scam.

What Is Cramming?

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “Cramming is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on a consumer’s telephone bill.” Crammers will take advantage of the confusing nature of a phone bill to trick consumers into paying for goods and services they didn’t authorize.

How Does Cramming Work?

Quite often, cell phone companies will allow third-party providers to use a customer’s phone number to charge them for goods and services such as an app or monthly payment linked to several connected devices.

As a result, the customer’s phone bill looks like a credit card statement since their number was basically being used as a credit or debit card. According to the FCC, “Crammers may attempt to place a charge on a consumer’s phone bill having nothing other than an active telephone number” that is easily obtained.

How to Know if You’ve Been ‘Crammed’

Carve some time out of your schedule in the next couple of days to review your latest phone bill and look for the following charges:

  1. Generic terms: “service fee,” “service charge,” “other fees,” “voicemail,” “mail server,” “calling plan” and “membership”
  2. Monthly fees with no explanation: “monthly fee” or “minimum monthly usage fee”
  3. Unauthorized services or goods: ringtones, cell phone wallpaper, and “premium” text notifications

How Do I Protect Myself?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to keep scammers from using your phone number for unauthorized charges initially, but you can ensure that it doesn’t continue to happen after the fact.

Follow these helpful tips when reviewing your phone bill:

  • Carefully review your phone bill every month just like you would your credit card statement.
  • Ask questions if a description on your bill doesn’t match a good or service you requested.
  • Don’t ignore small charges of $1 or $2. These charges are often missed and stay on a phone bill for years, adding up to hundreds of dollars.
  • Keep a record of your charges and compare it to your phone bill each month.
  • Always look at the “fine print” when signing up for services that are billed to your phone.

If you feel you have been a victim of cramming, call your phone service provider to lodge a complaint and contact the company that charged you and ask for an explanation. Finally, contact the FCC to file a formal complaint.