What's This Charge? How to Protect Yourself From Cramming

Many of us -- myself included -- carry our mobile phones with us everywhere. We rely on our smartphones for everything from getting directions, to texting our friends and family, to catching up on the latest news, to sharing photos of our kids. But even as we have become so reliant on mobile phones, most of us don't pay close attention to our phone bills. And if you aren't reading your bill, it could really cost you.

Did you know that your mobile phone bill may include charges not just from your wireless carrier, but also from unrelated third parties? While many third-party charges are legitimate (for instance, you may use your mobile phone to make a charitable donation), there are some unscrupulous people out there who find ways to sneak charges onto your bill without your permission. This is called cramming, and it can happen on your mobile phone bill or your landline bill.

Here's how the scams typically work:

You receive a text message with a joke or horoscope or celebrity gossip from someone you don't know. You might just ignore the message thinking it's spam -- but it could be a sign that you've been crammed and signed up for a $9.99 monthly subscription to receive such texts. How could this happen without your knowledge? Maybe the crammer got your personal information from a web site that offered a contest or prize and asked for your mobile phone number. Or maybe the crammer tricked you into clicking on an ad or visitinga webpage to sign you up for a service you didn't want.

Sometimes there may be no telltale sign that you've been crammed, except for on your phone bill. Look at your bill carefully to see if there are any charges that you don't recognize. Crammed charges may appear under a general description such as "premium services" or "premium text messages," so they may be difficult to spot.

If you see something that doesn't look right, contact your wireless carrier. Ask what the charge is and why you're receiving it. Don't wait -- your carrier might have a time limit on seeking a refund. You also might want to consider blocking all third-party charges on your phone account. Many carriers offer this option for free.

The FTC is working to stop mobile cramming. This week, we announced a settlement to stop a massive scheme that used deceptive websites to collect consumers' mobile phone numbers.

You are the first line of defense. Check your mobile phone bills. Find more information, click here.