Verizon, AT&T To Stop Hitting Customers with Third-Party Fees

Verizon and AT&T will stop loading their customers’ phone bills with unwanted and unauthorized third-party charges.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced Wednesday that the two companies will stop “cramming” their customer’s telephone bills after a Senate investigation showed that customers were charged up to $10 billion in illegitimate fees the past five years, according to a report by MSNBC.

Cramming, which tacks on $10 to $20 charges on customers’ monthly bills, is prevalent at telecom giants Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink/Quest, who made as much as $650 from the practice, according to a report done by the Today Show in conjunction with MSNBC.

“AT&T made the right decision to end cramming by August,” the West Virginia Democrats office said in a statement on Wednesday, according to the report.  ” .. And while the decisions of AT&T and Verizon are a step in the right direction, I still believe we need to pass a bill that bans this abusive practice once and for all.”

The company defended itself against cramming allegations, yet said it would discontinue the practice.

“We currently receive cramming complaints for only about one out of every thousand bills that contain third-party charges,” said Michael Balmoris, an AT&T spokesman, in a statement to MSNBC.  “However, due to continued concern over the possibility of unauthorized charges, we have decided to take this additional step and eliminate third-party billing for most types of services.”

Verizon also said it would stop cramming customers’ phone bills.

 On March 19, Verizons wireline business began notifying its billing aggregators (or clearinghouses”) and carriers that it is going to cease providing third-party billing services for so-called ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘enhanced’ services,” said Bill Kula, a Verizon spokesman, in an email, according to the report. “All billing of those services will be phased out by the end of 2012.”

Cramming, which started in 1995, has made it too easy for third-party companies to sell services to unsuspecting customers. The technique involves firms using deceptive practices to get customers to sign up for sweepstakes or cash small checks that double as authorization forms, after which time it is easy to sell these add-on services without the customer’s knowledge.

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