I was at home tonight, enjoying the rumbles and flashes of the first thunderstorm (on the eve) of Spring, when I received a text message. I reluctantly pulled my phone out of my pocket, fully expecting it to be one of my kids asking me to come and help them change a tire in the downpour. Much to my relief, it was just an innocuous message from some silly third party, offering 3 trivia alerts a week for just $9.99 per month, followed by the standard “Reply STOP to Cancel” message that I’ve seen a hundred times. Though I am quite a trivia buff, the thought of spending $10 a month for 12 tidbits of trivia seemed outrageous. I immediately replied with my “STOP” message and considered following up with “DAMMIT!” but managed to restrain myself.
Then something ominous occurred to me. My head started filling up with “what ifs?”
What if this was a scam?
What if my phone had just been hacked somehow?
What if I replied incorrectly?
After all, the text actually said “Reply STOP to Can For Help call 18888906150.” Did I just get tricked into accepting their service? After about an hour on Google, I had determined that there was a pretty good likelihood that I had.
Next step – call my cell carrier. I called ATT Mobile and spoke with a very pleasant young woman who assured me that she could help me with this. After accessing my account, she confirmed my suspicion . . . I had indeed been scammed. No wait, she didn’t say “scammed,” she said “crammed.” I asked if there was a difference. She said that their term for this is “cramming.” Again I pressed for an explanation as to the difference between a “cram” and a “scam.” All I could get out of her was that this is different because it is done by 3rd party vendors. Huh?
“So, cramming,” I asked, “is it ever legitimate?” “Well . . . . no,” she replied. “Why then, don’t you just block it all?” The conversation quickly went downhill from there. She told me that they can’t block “crammers” and that they have no control over them and how this has even happened to her personally. Somehow that didn’t make me feel any better.
So, the wheels were really turning now. I asked for an explanation for why they would approve of fraudulent activity on their network – back to the cycle of non-answers;
ATT: “Again, Mr. Peterson, we don’t consider these scammers, some of them provide legitimate services.”
ME: “Like what? . . . wait . . . so, I wasn’t scammed? You already admitted that this is NEVER legitimate!”
ATT: “Sir, I have told you that we will take this charge off of your bill.”
ME: “If I hadn’t caught this, ATT would be collecting the money for this, right?”
ATT: “Well, yes, it gets billed on your account.”
ME: “And I pay YOU for this ‘cramming?’”
ATT: “Sir, I have already credited your account for the charges.” “Is there anything else I can help you with tonight?
I was just getting warmed up . . .
ME: “Yes there is. Could you tell me how much ATT gets from these charges?”
ATT: “Sir, I told you. We are refunding your money, so we don’t keep anything.”
ME: “How about the person who doesn’t catch this in time and pays his bill?”
ATT: “Then we pay the 3rd party provider.”
ME: “So, are you telling me that you have a contractual arrangement with them?”
ATT: “Well yes, they bill for the services they provide on our phones and we in turn pass through the payment to them.”
ME: “You said you had no control over them. In fact, you are complicit in this rip-off!”
(the sound of dictionary pages rustling)
ME: “If you are the entity collecting the money from this admittedly fraudulent scheme, why don’t you just refuse to pay them?”
ME: “How much does ATT keep from each $9.99 that you collect?”
ATT: “Sir, you should now have received am email from ATT, stating that the charges have been removed from your account. It may take 24 hours or more for the actual charges to appear, but the credit has already been issued.”
ME: “Why don’t you just block THIS 3rd party from doing business on YOUR network? We both know for a fact that they are running a scam.”
ATT: “We are working with the FCC to try and change this.”
ME: “Does that mean that you are being investigated by the FCC for fraudulent activity?”
ATT: “I can also put a block on all 3rd party content providers for you, Free of charge.”
ME: “Why isn’t blocking them the default and then you can let your customers opt in to ‘cramming’ if they want it?”
ATT: “You will also receive a PIN by text that will allow you to actually make a purchase if you choose to in the future.”
ME: “Like another scam?”
I was clearly losing her now . . .
ATT: “Is there anything else I can help you with tonight, Mr. Peterson?”
ME: “No thank you, you have been very helpful. I’ll be sure to let everyone I know in on this little secret that you have. You have given me lots of good material for my blog on this subject.”
ATT: “Have a good evening, Mr. Peterson.”
I will hand it to her, she maintained a cool head through this grilling (which lasted 26 minutes with hold time). So, here’s the deal . . .
- Your cell service provider IS NOT on your side (I hope you already knew this)
- You can be “crammed” without ever signing up for anything
- Texting “STOP” to these crooks does not mean that you don’t already have charges on your bill
- Some “crammers” start charging you only IF you reply, regardless of WHAT you reply
ACTION TO TAKE – NOW!
- Contact your cell service provider TODAY by phone
- Ask them to block all 3rd party content (this does not prevent you from purchasing apps)
- Have them check for any unauthorized billing on your current activity
- Check your statement EVERY month, better yet, twice a month
- Don’t reply to questionable texts
You are particularly susceptible to being “crammed” if you are set up on auto-pay for your cell service. Some crammers will only charge $2-4/month and hope that you don’t notice. As long as there are people, there will be people who will try to take advantage of others. This is one crook that you can stop. But you can just bet that they are already working on their next scam . . .