Slamming, Cramming and Other Top Scams:

Slamming highlighted in the National Fraud Information Center’s Top 5 scams for 1998:
Internet ScamBusters #24

Internet ScamBusters™
By Audri and Jim Lanford
Copyright © Audri and Jim Lanford
Issue #24

First, the response to last month’s issue about credit card fraud for merchants has been overwhelming. We’d like to thank all of the subscribers who wrote to share their stories. And we’d like to invite you to learn from other subscribers’ experiences by visiting Minimizing Credit Card Fraud — you’ll find some fascinating stories, as well as great tips, to help reduce credit card fraud for merchants.

Second, we just posted another article on credit card fraud called "Don’t Be Victimized by Online Credit Card Fraud — Prevention Tips." This excellent article by T.J. Walker is more technical than the last issue of Internet ScamBusters. Check it out at Credit Card Fraud Prevention Tips

Third, we’d like to invite you to visit another excellent resource. It’s the "Unsolicited Email Resource Center" which provides a collection of useful anti-spam resources. It’s at http://www1.seattlelab.com/uerc/links.asp

Now, let’s get to this month’s topic.

We’re often asked: "What are the biggest scams out there today?" This month we’ll answer that question. We’ll also share some excellent tips with you about how to avoid these scams, and what to do if you get taken.

This issue is based on information from the National Consumers League: http://www.natlconsumersleague.org/ and the National Fraud Information Center: http://www.fraud.org/ (which is run by the NCL).

The Top Five Scams For 1998

Each year, the National Fraud Information Center reports the Top Ten List of most common frauds. Sweepstakes and phony prize offers almost always ranks at the top of this list.

But not this year. In fact, the top scam for this year wasn’t even on the 1997 list of top frauds.

What is the "winner" so far this year? Cramming — billing consumers for optional services they never ordered. Susan Grant, Director of the National Fraud Information Center, reports: "We were shocked to learn that we had nearly three times as many reports about cramming as we did about phony prize offers, which had perennially ranked number one." She continues: "Cramming wasn’t even among the 1997 top frauds, and now it’s outnumbered the second reported scam, slamming, two-to-one."

The top five scams are:

1. Cramming – Consumers are billed for optional services (such as voice mail or paging) they never ordered.

2. Slamming – Slamming is the practice whereby long distance companies switch your phone service to their company without your permission. In the first six months of 1998, more consumers have reported slamming incidents to the NFIC than in all of 1997.

3. Advance Fee Loans – Many companies (often operating out of Canada) offer empty promises for personal or business loans, and require payment of fees in advance. They never get you the loan and your fees are down the drain.

4. Sweepstakes – Phony prize awards that require payment of fees first — and then the "prizes" never appear.

5. Work-at-home scams – These "business opportunities" include kits sold to stuff envelopes, make jewelry, or perform other work-at-home jobs, with false promises of huge profits.

The top ten states for cramming are:

  1. New York
  2. Maryland
  3. Massachusetts
  4. New Jersey
  5. Pennsylvania
  6. Virginia
  7. California
  8. Rhode Island
  9. Ohio
  10. West Virginia

The top ten states for slamming are:

  1. New York
  2. Massachusetts
  3. New Jersey
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Maryland
  6. Virginia
  7. Texas
  8. Illinois
  9. New Hampshire
  10. Florida

What should you do if you are "crammed" or "slammed"? The National Consumers League offers a free survival guide called "You Make the Call" to help consumers resolve and avoid phone scams. You can find it at http://www.natlconsumersleague.org/sguide.htm or by calling (800) 355-9625.

Here are some valuable tips from this guide:

  • Find out which long distance carrier you currently are using by calling toll-free, 700-555-4141. Check your local toll carrier as well by calling 1 + area code + 700-4141. Call these 700 numbers ten days after receiving a telephone solicitation for any long distance services that you have rejected. These calls are free.

  • Read the fine print before filling out a contest form or coupon offer. You may be agreeing to new or additional phone services.
  • Compare and shop around for long distance services. There are a huge variety of plans and pricing structures, so you need to comparison shop. Legitimate companies will send you written information and answer all of your questions thoroughly. Scam artists will pressure you to "ACT NOW!" For help choosing a long distance company and calling plan, check out Telecommunication’s Research Action Center: http://www.trac.org/
  • NEVER give out your PIN or personal identification number. There is only one reason someone would ask for the PIN number for your calling card: to rip you off! Any legitimate company already has your PIN on file and can look it up, if needed.
  • If you are slammed, know your rights. You have the right to get your service switched back at no charge and to be re-billed by the company that slammed you at the rates that your original carrier would have charged for the calls. Follow these five steps:

1. Call your local telephone company, explain that you have been slammed, and ask to be switched back to your original carrier with no "change charges."

2. Call the company that slammed you and demand to be re-billed at the rates your original carrier would have charged. Use the company’s 1-800 number listed on your telephone bill.

3. Call your original carrier, explain that you have been slammed, and tell them that you want to switch back and be re-enrolled in any special calling plan that you had previously selected.

4. Notify local law enforcement and consumer protection authorities by writing a letter describing the problem and enclosing a copy of your bill. Send a copy of the letter to the Federal Communications Commission, 1919 M Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20554. Report the incident to the National Consumer League’s National Fraud Information Center at 1 (800) 876-7060.

5. For more protection against slamming, call your local telephone company and ask them not to change your long distance or local phone company unless they receive a written or verbal authorization from you. There is no charge for this service.

  • Charges for various services should be itemized on your telephone bill. If you’re not sure whether charges are connected with your regular telephone service or are for extra services, ask your local telephone company. The name of the company providing services and its toll-free number should be listed on the page showing those charges. If you did not authorize the services, call that number and insist that they cancel the services and they remove the charges from your bill. If you can’t get through to the company, call your local telephone carrier and ask it to file a complaint on your behalf. If you are disputing charges, make sure to pay the undisputed portion of your bill by the due date.

  • If a "crammer" agrees to remove the disputed charges, let your local telephone company know. It can help you recalculate your bill, subtracting the disputed charges and any taxes or fees associated with them. If the "crammer" refuses, notify your local carrier that you’re still disputing the charges. Your phone service should not be disconnected, but be aware that the "crammer" can refer the matter to a
    collection agency.

The National Fraud Information Center offers these additional tips:

  • Be careful when calling unfamiliar 800 or 900 numbers. Be especially wary of following instructions to "enter activation code numbers" or answering yes to questions that may unwittingly result in authorizing unwanted telephone services.

  • Scrutinize each page of your phone bill carefully every month as soon as you receive the bill to make sure that there are no unauthorized charges. Call your local phone company if you see something you are unsure about. If there is an unauthorized charge, call your local phone company to let it know that you are disputing a charge and why.

One more tip from us:

  • Read the fine print if you receive a check from any long distance service provider. Cashing that check may well allow the company to switch your service to that company.

Here are tips we received from readers on Telephone Fraud.