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Legislation cracks down on cell phone 'cramming'

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar cosponsored legislation this week to crack down on landline and cell phone "cramming," which is when third parties place unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on phone bills.

The Fair Telephone Billing Act of 2013, introduced by Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV), would ban most third-party charges on landline phones. Last year, Klobuchar successfully pressed Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink to stop placing third-party charges on landline phone bills. The legislation is similar to legislation that Klobuchar cosponsored last year.

"No consumer should have to open their phone bills at the end of the month to find an endless array of complicated charges they never knew they were accruing," Klobuchar said. "This legislation will help crack down on cramming and I will continue to work to ensure consumers have access to clear, transparent bills free from hidden charges."

"We're shining a spotlight on devious efforts to trick consumers through a web of misleading and confusing phone bill charges," said Rockefeller. "I wasn't tolerant of this in the past and it's not going to happen in the future, period. Consumer predators are now on notice - phone bills are no longer an easy way to stick consumers with bogus charges."

The Fair Telephone Billing Act of 2013 would ensure that all landline phone companies take the same steps that Verizon, AT&T and CenturyLink took and ban most third-party charges on landline phone bills. The bill has exceptions for the legitimate third-party charges of telephone-related services, like collect calls, and "bundled" services, like satellite television services, that are jointly marketed with telephone services. The legislation would also ensure consumers are reimbursed for any unauthorized third-party charges that appear on their bills.

"Cramming" comes in many forms, but it typically refers to "mystery charges" buried in the details of a consumer's phone bill. Crammers trick consumers by pretending to offer something for "free" but then apply charges to consumers' phone bills. The monthly charges are listed with vague descriptions, so consumers often do not detect the unauthorized charges for months.

Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, which has oversight over the FCC and the telecommunications industry.