Read Your Phone Bill Carefully
Last night was bill paying night at my house. I hate bill paying night. It went smoothly until I opened my AT&T bill for my home phone (I know, I know, how 1990’s of me to have a home phone). Anyway, the amount was different than last month – $15 different thanks to a company called ILD Telecom.
According to the information I’ve found, ILD Telecom is a telecommunications billing clearinghouse. This would be similar to credit card clearinghouses that make it possible for you to swipe your credit card at any merchant, who can use any bank, and the charge end up on your account at any other bank. So, this company enables merchants to bill you through your phone bill and receive services in return. Other than phone sex operators I can’t really think of a valid reason for doing this, but surely there must be.
So I called the 800# that appeard next to their name and after entering my home telephone number I was routed to a customer service representative with a company called MyIproducts. After bringing up my account (using just a telephone number) she asked if I knew a “Leah Christensen” and of course I do not. She indicated that this person signed up for their service, which is a voice mail service, and must have entered the wrong phone number. She then asked me what the date of billing was on that I was looking at and I told her. She said there was another bill the following month, but she was cancelling this person’s service and crediting my account for the two months that had already been billed. I have her name, employee number, and a confirmation code. I now think this is pretty much worthless information, but I’ll hold onto it for giggles. Satisfied, I finished paying bills and went to bed with LSU comfortably leading a repeatedly pitiful Ohio State team.
This morning as I cranked out my yardage in the pool (at 2750 yds maybe I should refer to it as mileage) and thought about the whole scheme and it sounded fishy. First – who is going to use an Internet provider for $15 a month for voice mail?? You can almost get a cell phone w/ voicemail for that. And second – why did she ask me for the first date of billing? Can’t you see it? How many people miss this charge for a few months because they actually use their home phone for long distance or something and don’t get a credit for that?
Intrigued, I went to their website and poked around. It certainly looks legitimate, but then I decided to explore their products and services further. On this page, they list 4 products. Each with a two line description. I guess they didn’t want to overload us with info. Interestingly, there is no pricing information, just a link if you’re ready to become an iMail customer. Sure – sounds great to me… I click the link and get a page not found error. There is no way to sign up for the service. The page name it linked to was on their site at /restaurant/restaurant.aspx. RESTAURANT?? HUH?
Based on my personal experiences and investigation, I think it is safe to say that this company is a crammer. They sign people’s phone bills up for a charge to appear and collect money from the LEC (local exchange carrier) who in turn bills the customer. They continue to collect money until they are told to stop. I am hoping that they stopped in my case but it will be 2 billing cycles before I know for sure. They only refund what you tell them they billed you, not what they actually billed you.
I did some googling and found some other people with the same “Oh, someone must’ve misentered their telephone number excuse”. Wow – this company must have a marketing list of the clumsiest and most naive people on earth. $15 for voicemail and they can’t enter their own number right? Here is some info I found from a purported former employee. I believe him… but I have no way to prove that he ever worked there so I take it with a grain of salt. Although it all adds up.
So You’ve Been Crammed, What Now?
1) Call the 800# that appears next to the 3rd party billing company’s info. Do not get off the phone until you are satisfied that they are removing the charge. Get names and confirmation numbers so you at least feel it is a legitimate claim process. I don’t know that I would tell them the billing date you think the first charge appeared – I’d ask what the first date they see is and then go from there. You have a date in mind, but maybe they’ll offer up an earlier date (e.g. maybe you missed the charge one month).
2) Call your local phone company. Tell them you’ve filed the claim with the 3rd party and am paying your bill minus the disputed charge. They told me that was all I had to do, but I think it is best to be on record as calling in to talk about the bill. They are required by law to bill for these companies that present “proof” of your agreeing to be billed in this manner. Note the air quotes around the word proof.
3) Pay your bill, but subtract out the fraudulent charges (this is why you called the phone company in step 2).
4) From here, it is up to you. If you’re dealing with the company I’ve mentioned, I’d say talk to your State Attorney General’s Office, and maybe file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
5) Check your bill religiously. Not just to make sure these charges are removed, but to also prevent any further fraudulent charges from being placed.
Yes. I am pissed off. Thanks for noticing. But to AT&T’s credit, I don’t think it is their fault. My wait time from the moment I pressed 1 for English to getting to talk to someone was under 1 minute, and the representative I talked to was very knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. Kudos to AT&T.