The Federal Communications Commission has voted through new rules that ban unauthorized charges on phone bills. In case you’re thinking “wait, that was legal before?!” it was already illegal under federal law, but adding explicit rules to ban particular practices makes it faster and easier to enforce the law.
The FCC targeted two particularly nasty tactics employed by salespeople and telecoms, known as “slamming” and “cramming.” Cramming is a technique that’s rampant across a telecoms industry where salespeople often have commission as a significant part of their income. It refers to any time salespeople add charges to your bill without your explicit authorization, or by promising that credits will eventually show up when they don’t. We’ve reported before how such tactics can be institutionalized, especially in franchise-owned locations where salespeople aren’t even employed by the company whose services they’re selling.
In the wireless industry, cramming can often show up as device insurance that customers didn’t ask for, extra features on a line, or even a device like a tablet that’s “free” in store but costs $20 extra a month. For the cable and home internet business, changes to bundles without authorization are more common. “The Commission’s rules also now include an explicit prohibition against placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills. In doing so, the Commission reaffirms for the benefit of service providers and billing companies the existing prohibition against cramming to ensure there is no misunderstanding about previous authority and enforcement of that prohibition,” the FCC said in a statement.
The practice of “slamming,” which refers to unauthorized changes to a customers’ phone provider, is also coming under the spotlight with new rules. If a salesperson is found to have been deceptive will obtaining your permission to switch carriers, the consent will be deemed invalid, and if a salesperson or sales company deliberately misleads the third-party verification services — which often use recordings of calls supplied by the salespeople to verify the user’s consent to switch — the company will be barred from using any verification service for several years.