A shocking utility story.

In my latest column at Get Rich Slowly, I reveal my latest bonehead move — one that cost me money.

Crammed! A shocking utility tale” details my personal run-in with a deceptive phone-billing practice. Short form: It’s up to you, not your cell-phone carrier, to make sure you aren’t paying for service you didn’t order.

Shady companies known as “crammers” are bilking an estimated 20 million Americans by tricking them into signing up for services — or, sometimes, by just getting hold of the number and sneaking bogus charges onto your phone bill.

Yep, I got crammed. Worse: I didn’t notice. Or, rather, I did eventually notice but didn’t do anything about it right away.

Read all the sordid details at the link above. Have a joke at my expense, if you must. But be sure to check your own bill carefully after reading about the kinds of things these crammer scammers do.

In other news:

One of my posts, “A frugal egg-speriment,” was selected for the Festival of Frugality blog carnival, hosted this week by RothIRA.com.

A piece that I did for MSN Money Smart Spending, “Vacation over? Make re-entry easier,” is in the Carnival of Personal Finance over at Kitten a Go-Go.

If you’re here today because you saw “Lactobacillus love: Is it wrong?” at Moneytalks News — welcome! My work will be running there every Tuesday.

Finally: Bobbysgirl was the winner of the All You and Woman’s Day magazine subscriptions. Congratulations, and once you respond to my e-mail I’ll get the paperwork rolling. This week’s giveaway may be a book. Or it may be something else. I’m just vague like that.

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  1. I make DH open the phone bill every month because every time I open it there’s something wrong about it that is costing us money (usually the cell company has made a mistake). When he opens it there’s no problems!

  2. jestjack

    Sorry to hear about the “cramming”. Something similiar happened to me on my land line a couple of years back, though not as expensive, and that’s when I “locked” my phone and it’s features. Ya need a password and have to jump thru a bunch of hoops to change my phone service at home. My cell is a “pay as you go” but I was still stung by the same bug as you. When I “supposedly” ordered a subscription to ring tones. Unfortunately my cell phone company couldn’t provide a date, time or offer that enrolled me into the “ringtone program”. They removed all the charges after I threatened to call my credit card company and challenge the charges as well as file a complaint.
    You may want to take this up with the credit card company that actually pays your phone bill. It is my understanding they hate fraud as much as the rest of us…..Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. I could write a book, not a blog, about cramming on my ATT line. I get back every month that I was charged. Yes, it happened to me. Yes, it was a ringtone. Well, once it was. The CS woman spent an hour with me; I spent more time with two other companies, tracking down the source of the calls. Once I reached the right company, they were very compliant. I suppose they figured I was one tenacious bitch!

    Then, I complained to ATT, the first, second, and the final third company every day until my bill was clear. NO, I want it off today, not next month. I am a tenacious bitch.

    I would never had just taken the three months they will offer. Once, I got that three months, all the csr could offer, asked to speak to his supervisor, then, got something like another five months. I asked to speak to supervisors until I got all 21 months of the equipment replacement cost refunded to me. I had gotten three phones out of the box that did not work and a call waiting box that was like a matchbox instead of my snazzy one that would practically do my bidding. It was a legitimate charge that I had wanted, but I was not getting what I paid for. I am a tenacious bitch.

    When my daughter has a problem with a bill, she has me take care of it. I just pretend I am her. Yes, I do know her mother’s maiden name, and her ss #, but I never pose as her unless she asks me to or gives me permission. I am a tenacious bitch.

    It’s no shame to be crammed. Just be a tenacious bitch!

  4. Brenda

    After reading this I called my cell phone provider to find out what happened to the refund I called about in May. $21.14 credit on its way. The crammer is blocked.
    Called cable to see why my bill has changed FOUR times in 2011. Got a one year discount saving me $190. Wooot.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. zzzzzz

    Ever consider a prepaid phone plan? That might eliminate cramming–no bill with a whole bunch of mysterious lines of charges; just one charge, every month.

    • Donna Freedman

      @zzzzzz: I don’t want to risk running out of minutes in the middle of an interview because I forgot to reload. But I’ve heard good things about prepaid plans; for some people they’re a perfect fit.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  6. Now A Country Mouse

    Thanks for sharing Donna. Don’t kick yourself too much…it happens. We are the kind of folks that get emotional if we forget a coupon for an item we pick up during a grocery run. The beauty of being upset by this: There are so many people who would brush it off and not care at all about this “lost money”. It’s good that we care about things like this…shows we mindfully appreciate what we have. When you get the blues thinking about it, just think of a time when you got a really, really good deal and smile. :)

  7. You are writing so much! How do you have time to live to get more things to write about?

  8. christy

    About prepaid plans, most phone companies make the plans so unattractive (useless) that people don’t want to use them. I say useless because more and more people are ditching their landlines and the phone companies know it. My dad has a prepaid phone (for my mom) that he has had for about 8 years, with rollover minutes, he is grandfathered into the plan and as long as he doesn’t change, add or minus something from his plan he keeps incurring and rolling over minutes and as long as he doesn’t get a new phone. He has a prehistoric phone he keeps buying batteries for off of ebay for $1. Actually, they don’t make the batteries anymore, so he figures he can squeek another two years out of buying “new” old stock batteries off ebay before he has to join the “current” phone world. He has over 8000 minutes squirrelled away. More and more companies don’t have a “basic” phone, one that just makes and receives calls without the fancy stuff.

  9. zzzzzz

    There are prepaid plans with unlimited talk minutes.

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