As a result of my research on 3rd party billing and for being an outspoken consumer advocate against phone cramming, I’m convinced that a lot of cramming that occurs is an organized crime effort and activity. I’ve reached this conclusion as I have delved further in our research on cramming, and found that significant incidents of cramming in the U.S. are actually proven to be financed and run by organized crime (the mob) as described by mobsters charged in cramming scam. My research also underscores the fact that there are millions, even as much as up to a billion dollars at stake each year for perpetrators of cramming and the small amounts involved in individual cramming cases add up to a lucrative moneymaking operation.
What follows is the real story of what goes on behind those cramming charges on your telephone bill from a telecommunications audit perspective and what you can do about it.
First, what is cramming? Cramming is the unauthorized implementation of 3rd party charges on your local telephone bill. Why does it exist and how does it work? The telecommunications act of 1996 opened the door to allow 3rd party bilkers to incur charges on business and consumer’s phone bills. Crammers took advantage of this billing process and loopholes in the telecom act and developed ingenious methods of incurring bogus charges on your phone bill that make them millions for basically doing nothing.
This is how the moneymaking scam works. The third party biller dreams up a service that is somehow technology or telecom related and registers that function as a real business entity. For example, when examining phone bills in a large company, you might not think twice about seeing charges for something like “internet media services.” Moreover, you might be thinking, “perhaps my I.T. department or my marketing department has some special tech media service they use and If I cancel the service, it might have an adverse affect on the company.” Perhaps you’ll second guess yourself again when you see more billing examples under other services such as, “internet 1st carrier services, directory dial assistance services, marketing mail services, tax subsidy program,” and many more. I’ve been a professional telecommunication auditor for nearly 30 years, yet I still sometimes have to scratch my head and think twice about canceling these services for clients, the cramming services look that authentic. And that is exactly what the crammers play on…our fear of the unknown and that canceling their bogus services will disrupt your business operations.
In my telecommunication auditing experience, 99 out of 100 phone customers (thousands) with cramming on their telephone bills simply ignore the charges continue to pay the amount every month for years. Many of the charges are cleverly designed to look deceptively legitimate and charges normally range from $1.99 per month to often as high as over $100 per month. However, its those small cramming charges that often go unnoticed or are an expense that telecom bill payers simply ignore as not being significant enough or worth their time to fully investigate or eliminate. Also, who even wants to speak or interact with these scam artists?
Recently, we audited one of the big five U.S. wireline phone companies and came up with over $2,000 per month in savings from eliminating their nationwide cramming charges. They were stunned to see that we saved them $24,000 per year in recurring savings and almost that much in crammer refunds at their service locations across the U.S.
Like some criminals, crammers can be ingenious in administering their scams. I’ve even seen them go so far as to dial up customer’s voice mail systems, determine the actual type of voice mail system used at a particular business from analyzing the specific options or voice mail system greetings. They then bill the end user for using voice mail services on that specific type of voice mail system. For example, we’ve seen charges like “Nortel voice systems,” or “Avaya messaging services” on local client telephone bills that were completely bogus but looked very legitimate because those clients actually used Nortel or Avaya phone systems at their place of business. When I first saw the itemized charges on the telephone bill, I thought to myself, “this customer has a Nortel, so these must be legit charges by the phone company.” Upon further investigation, I was wrong, it was in fact a clever cramming scam.
The crammers use 3rd party billing services to facilitate their charges to customers. These 3rd party billers may show up on your telephone bill as “Enhanced Billing Services Inc (ESBI),” “ILD services” or “Americatel.” These companies bill on behalf of the crammers. I had one telecom auditor tell me that if you simply eliminate or block ESBI from billing on your phone services via the phone company, this will eliminate 99% of your cramming problems going forward. That is a good point. When you see these billers on your phone bill, look closely, this is your red flag to investigate further. Keep in mind that these are the 3rd party billers (aggregators/middlemen) who facilitate or pass-on the charges to you, they are not the actual crammers but they know full well what is occurring. And remember, the person answering the phone is just a hired call answerer, although they know fully well what the game is, go easy on them, you’ll get better results. Use your knowledge and tact to win the battle, not your temper.
So how can you handle crammers and effectively get refunds and get through all of the roadblocks the crammers will throw at you as you try to obtain justice? Look carefully at your phone bill, particularly the last few pages of your local telephone bill. Find the toll free number on the bill for those charges that you cannot verify and contact the 3rd party biller who bills on behalf of the phone crammer. Ask them for the number to the particular crammer they are billing on behalf of, you have a right to this information. Then call the crammer. Keep in mind that they’ll often tell you that someone at your company signed up for their service. They will likely even provide an employee name of someone at your company, often your company’s receptionist if that is who answers the majority of your incoming calls. They are betting you won’t want to confront this person at your company to legitimize the transaction or verification. This is another ploy to further legitimize their services, another roadblock to your getting to the truth. State emphatically that absolutely no one at your company is authorized to make telecom billing decisions except for you. Next roadblock, they’ll often reply that they have a recording or some kind of written record that someone at your company actually ordered their telecom services. This is often just a voice verification servic and what was done is a call was placed to someone at your company in the past just do some kind of phone number verification. That is all the FCC requires to allow them to legally get away with billing you!
Recently, on inquiry, I demanded that a crammer play this actual recording for me, and they did! Usually they’ll explain that it will take a few weeks to retrieve from archives, or they’ll make an excuse as to why they cannot provide it. They’ll hope you’ll just go away. So when they actually offered to let me listen to the tape, I took them up on it. This particular recording consisted of a fast talking sales person (crammer) asking a company temporary employee (receptionist) to verify a phone number at the business for a directory assistance listing. When I listened to the static filled recording, it was very difficult to hear and understand at low volume, but it consisted of the crammer explaining that he was routinely verifying the customer’s business name and phone number for a business media listing. The crammer also asked for the unsuspecting receptionist’s name for their verification. It was a hurried conversation, (about 10 seconds long) and you could hear multiple phone lines ringing in the background of the recording and the receptionist seemed overwhelmed with calls (another ploy to get quick accommodation). Nevertheless, that simple “verification” was all they needed for their 3rd party bill back to the unsuspecting business customer. After listening to the recording, I emphatically explained to the crammer that this receptionist was not authorized to make any purchasing decisions, the conversation did not offer an actual sale or procurement of a real service and threatened to write a long case complaint letter to the FCC and FTC. The crammer immediately backed down and then offered a complete refund and cessation of billing on the bogus services. And yes, legally, that recording provides the groundwork for the crammer to implement the charge on the phone bill, but as we know, its a telecom scam to get your money.
Another ploy the crammer will use is that he or she will then try to throw you a bone, and offer you a few months telecom refund, hoping you’ll go away. Don’t fall for it, insist upon the full 100% refund of all back charges because they are illegally billed. If you are by chance turned down, first ask the crammer where to formally write them a complaint letter and give them the opportunity to take action. If they do not, send a well documented letter, providing your information on the who, what when where how information on cramming case to the FTC and FCC. Ensure that you advise the crammer that you intend to file the complaint. See this site: Federal Communications Commission see: Federal Communications Commission. And this one: Federal Trade Commission: Federal Trade Commission. Protect your rights as a consumer, and, again, remember, for every refund the crammers give back, there are 100 more suckers out there who just give up and pay the charges. Meanwhile, the purveyors of these unethical cramming businesses are living the high life on your company’s buck. They are multi-millionaires, relaxing on their yachts and living in their mansions raking in the recurring cash from millions of unsuspecting telecom customers like you and I. However, there is some justice for these bums and they are starting to be held accountable more often.
You can threaten to complain to the PUC and FCC, however, the most effective agency for crammers is the FTC. Most often, the mere mention of the FTC allows refund credits to flow to you from the crammers. If you are in doubt about a charge, get a professional telecom audit from BottaBoom.
A lot of times you can do a internet search on the FTC website, or Google FTC complaints
against a particular company you see on your bill and get a lot of pertinent information
including the owners named in the complaint. Once you have that and you
mention names, history, and detail to the crammer’s customer service rep on the
other end, they know you’re just not some customer that they can give a
standard line to. Usually they go and consult with their supervisor for a little bit
and come back and issue the credit. Moreover, although I’ve never done so, I am told that writing a formal letter and sending it registered mail with receipt required is also effective.
And here is a sample list below of some telephone billers and their contact numbers to look out for and remember, these are just a few of the many hundreds of companies that use third party billers out there to get onto your phone bill:
Enhanced Services Billing Inc. (ESBI)
800-460-0078 (a third party billing enabler, they place the charge on your phone bill on behalf of the actual service who pays them to bill you).
ILD Teleservices 1-800-433-4518 (a third party billing enabler, they place the charge on the phone bill on behalf of the service who pays them to bill you).
ZPDI billing 1-888-505-0734 (a third party billing enabler, they place the charge on the phone bill on behalf of the service who pays them to bill you).
Business enhancement SSVSCS, LLC-866-518-0928+
AMERIBIZZ.COM, LLC-Webhosting MTH FEE-Also known as discount business services-1-866-820-8166.
Email Discount Network, LLC 800-730-8199 Email Discounts, LLC
NtwkComm Intl Corp (Network Communications International Corp) also through ZPDI billing call 1-888-505-0734
Generation Telecom (ILD)-800-637-4009
MYI Products Imail-800-286-4455
New Link Network-800-433-4951
OAN Services Inc-800-441-9678
Odyssey Comm Svcs-877-293-8573
Ridley Telephone Company-800-876-3511
Traveller Info Svcs-U.S. Connect-800-998-3270
Digital Mail LLC
United Comm Link, LLC-800-406-2771
United Voice Message-800-775-4589
YPD Yellow Direct-800-340-2222
OSP Communications, LLC-866-460 0837
American Evoice, LTD-1-866-576-1875
The Billing Resource – 888-296-8079 (bills for Tericom Networks – web services, online directory listing, etc.)
Please help our readers by adding your 3rd party biller information on this blog so we can alert others and add it to our list.
There are some great web resources on phone bill cramming that can help you in your fight against cramming. The more educated you are, the more effective you’ll be in the fight against cramming. The links are as follows:
See the article in Network World re: Integretel, OAN and other 3rd Party Billing companies. http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/25700 Finally, justice is served, at least for these crammers.
I strongly believe that educating and sharing my experiences with the public and my fellow telecom audit peers on this telecom audit blog will help put an end to this multi-million dollar scam against my fellow business owners. Good luck in your cost cutting efforts and keep up the good fight against phone bill crammers and slammers.
This is an open telecommunications audit blog, please share your stories and questions! We seem to have become a leading authority on telecom bill cramming, keep the comments coming…Thank you.
Click here to visit the telecommunications audit leader and get some help with stopping with bogus billing and get refunds from cramming and other mistakes and fraud on your company phone bill: http://www.bottaboom.com/contact-us/