Unauthorized Charges on Your Local Phone - Utility Bill?
FCC fines Verizon over 'mystery' fees $25 million and $52 million in refunds -" 10/28/2010
How to Find Them, Eliminate Them & Get Your Money Back!
If your business still gets its phone service through the old "AT&T and Verizon, etc" local phone company (as opposed to one of the newer competitive phone providers) then you need to double check your phone bill each and every month for charges you did not authorize. You may not know it but the local phone company allows other companies to bill you through your local phone bill. And while the local phone company allows other businesses to bill you through your local phone bill, the local phone company does not verify that the charges being billed to you by the other company are valid. When these unauthorized charges fraudulently appear on your phone bill it's called "cramming". Unfortunately you as the business owner or manager are the only one that can spot the unauthorized charges and if you don't comb over your bill every month to spot these unauthorized charges - you'll pay for them.
Why does the local phone company allow other companies to pass charges onto your phone bill? "Third-party billing" is supposedly a great convenience in that you only have to pay one bill instead of separate bills for obvious authorized phone related charges like yellow-page advertising in the "real yellow pages", 411 information calls and long-distance calls from your chosen long distance carrier. Over the years though, some less-than-scrupulous companies have realized that most businesses rarely scrutinize their local-phone bills. To take advantage of this, these companies have come up with elaborate schemes to place
unauthorized charges on your phone bill that you'll end up paying for without even thinking. Unauthorized charges you can end up paying for include charges for unwanted (and unused) email accounts, web sites, directory information calls, directory advertising in obscure publications, voice mail accounts and other services.
In theory, before these charges can be placed on your phone bill, the company that is originating the third-party billed charges is supposed to have a verification of the order like a voice recording. In reality though, all the company needs to do to initiate the charge is submit your name and phone number to the billing entity. The verifications are only required to be produced if a complaint is filed.
To prevent these charges from appearing on you business phone bill it's helpful to understand the four parties that make unauthorized third party phone charges a costly reality. Party number one is any employee who can answer your business phones. The unauthorized charge is rarely random and it usually happens after one of your company employees gets a telemarketing call. Employees should be instructed to document and report any overly aggressive telemarketing calls they receive. Party number two is the telemarketing company that originates the unauthorized charges by trying to get your employee to accept some service for which you'll be billed through your local phone bill. Party number three is the third-party billing company that has billing agreements with your local phone company. The name of the third-party billing is the one that is prominently displayed on your phone bill. After the third-party billing company's name is the name of the company that is originating the unwanted charges. Party number four is your "former Ma Bell" local phone company that collects the unwanted charges (keeps a share for "Ma") and then passes the rest to the third-party billing company (who keeps a big share) and then passes the balance on to the company that initiated the unwanted charge.
Following are some of the top third-party billing names and unauthorized charge originators you'll find on your phone bill. If you see these names on your phone bill you'll want to call the toll free number listed next to the charge to confirm it's a charge that's been properly authorized to be placed on your bill. Following are actual examples that we've recently found while auditing business phone bills.
We recommend customers should review any utility bills issued by deregulated utility companies. (In most instances today, consumers are paying higher charges to the deregulated gas and electric supply companies).
All Utility - Energy, gas, electric and water bills should be reviewed for proper reading and tariff.
If you suspect that you have been overcharged ask for detailed explanation and or file a complaint with your State Utility Commission.
YJ Draiman for City Council