CHICAGO, March 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As part of a nationwide effort to combat a scam called "cramming," the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) on Thursday urged consumers to contact the Illinois General Assembly in a final push for legislation that would give the Land of Lincoln one of the toughest laws in the country to fight fraudulent phone charges.
Cramming is when third-party companies slap fraudulent charges on a phone bill for services never ordered or received. House Bill 5211, which passed the Illinois House last week and is now before the Senate, would ban third-party charges from phone bills, with some logical exceptions, such as long distance and cable charges.
"We're asking consumers across Illinois today to scan their phone bills for any suspicious charges," CUB spokesman Patrick Deignan said at a news conference in Champaign, where the consumer group was holding a phone-bill clinic. "Then, we want people to contact their state senators to urge them to pass HB 5211. It's time we boot scam artists off our phone bills."
Cramming has made national headlines the last two weeks, as Verizon and AT&T announced that they would ban certain third-party charges from landline bills. West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller has called on other phone giants to follow their lead. His Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee estimates that customers pay up to $2 billion a year in third-party charges, with a large percentage of them unauthorized.
Last week, the Illinois House unanimously passed HB 5211, a bill championed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and sponsored by Rep. Kelly Burke of Oak Lawn and Sen. David Koehler of Pekin. With full passage, Illinois would join Vermont as the only two states in the country to have passed this type of legislation to crack down on cramming.
Deignan urged consumers to use CUB's Action Network, at www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org, to send a message to senators for final approval of HB 5211.
"Illinois consumers would much rather be putting their money to good use—building a nest egg, or their kids' college fund—than sinking hard-earned money into a service they never ordered or received," Deignan said. "Please send a message right now."
Deignan outlined three steps consumers should take if they spot a bogus charge on their phone bill:
* Call the cramming company and dispute the charge. The number should be listed on the phone bill.
* Call your local phone company. Inform it that you're disputing the charge and you're only paying the undisputed part of your bill. Make sure you agree what that undisputed amount is, and record the time of the call and the full name of the person you talk to.
* If the cramming company doesn't agree to lift the charge, file a complaint with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office. (Visit www.ag.state.il.us, or call 1-800-386-5438 [for Northern Illinois], 1-800-243-0618 [for Central Illinois], or 1-800-243-0607 [for Southern Illinois].) Keep one copy of the complaint for yourself and send the other to the cramming company. As long as you continue to pay the undisputed part of your bill, your phone company should send the questionable fee back to the alleged crammer, forcing it to prove the charge was authorized.
HB 5211 covers landline bills only, but CUB has called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ban third-party charges on cell-phone and Internet telephony (Voice over Internet Protocol) bills also as that agency considers tougher rules against the scam.
CUB is Illinois' leading nonprofit utility watchdog organization. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, CUB has helped save consumers more than $10 billion by blocking rate hikes and securing refunds. For more information, call CUB's Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556, or visit www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.
SOURCE Citizens Utility Board