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Editorial: Legislature should ban bogus phone charges

Illonois Attorney General LisMadigan testified Capitol Hill last year issue cellphone cramming. | Manuel Balce~AP

Illonois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, testified on Capitol Hill last year on the issue of cellphone cramming. | Manuel Balce~AP

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Updated: January 7, 2013 7:16AM



How would you like to pay a few dollars every month to get absolutely nothing?

Don’t laugh. If you have a cellphone, chances are that’s what you’re doing already.

The Citizens Utility Board estimates that 51 percent of Illinoisans’ cellphone bills contain at least one line of “cramming,” a fee sneaked onto our bills by third parties who pocket our money for doing nothing. CUB estimates that cramming has doubled over the past year.

The state Legislature has lots on its plate right now, but we hope it makes fixing this a priority next year.

It’s difficult to spot cramming charges hiding in our long, complicated cell phone bills because they go under such benign names as “premium texting” and “download charge.” Crammers get access to phone bills through such ploys as text messages and websites promising prizes, coupons or sweepstakes or through ringtone downloads. The average cost is $3.76 a month in Illinois, and the fees stay put until you notice and complain. The Federal Communications Commission says 95 percent of cramming victims never know what hit them.

Don’t sit by your cellphone waiting for your wireless carrier to call and warn you about suspicious charges. The carriers are so well protected by fine print that no phone company ever has been penalized for including even the most egregious cramming on its bills.

The FCC has been considering tougher laws at the urging of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and others, but it’s been considering and considering for a long time, and nothing has happened.

So the best hope for Illinois’ 12.3 million cellphone users is legislation that CUB hopes will be introduced in the next General Assembly.

Meanwhile, phone owners should scan every bill closely for charges they don’t recognize or check out CUB’s “Stop Cramming Center” at CitizensUtilityBoard.org.

The money you save could be your own.



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