by Miles Morley, Legal Assistant
Telephone and mobile service fraud was the second most common category for Michigan residents in the Consumer Sentinel Network’s 2014 data book. CSN defined telephone and mobile service fraud as “[c]omplaints about advertising related to mobile plans, rates or coverage areas; unsolicited mobile text messages; problems with mobile applications or downloads; other mobile device problems; charges for calls to ‘toll-free’ numbers; unauthorized charges, such as charges for calls consumers did not make; unauthorized switching of consumers’ phone service provider; misleading pre-paid phone card offers; as well as complaints about VoIP services; unsolicited faxes; etc.” Telephone and mobile service fraud accounted for 10,357 complaints, or fourteen percent of all complaints from Michigan residents.
A number of these frauds allow a third party to attach charges for a call or service to your phone bill. In the case of third-party billing (when an operator asks for permission to place charges for a call to another person on your bill) or a collect call (when an operator asks to you to accept charges for an incoming call), it is important to know who is making the request before accepting the charges. A more sinister variant of this will involve a party asking you to hang up and dial *72 and another phone number. This will forward your incoming calls to the other phone number. Some companies charge for this service and sometimes additional charges may be added to your bill. Even worse, calls that are meant for you may be forwarded as well. Scammers will often leave a convincing message with the operator, or try to convince you that it is an emergency to lure you into accepting the charges. It is important to decline any charge unless you are absolutely certain you know the caller and are willing to accept responsibility.
The illegal act of placing unauthorized charges on your telephone bill is called “cramming.” Sometimes a phone company will allow other companies to place charges on customers’ telephone bills for services, downloads, or memberships. The first step to protecting yourself is to be careful of what you access, especially with a smart phone. Sometimes scammers will send a phone call, text message, or e-mail purporting to offer a free ringtone, wallpaper, or service and enroll the victim in a paid subscription service when accepted. The next step is to carefully review your phone bill for charges. If you are unsure what a charge was for, contact your telephone company to inquire. If you believe you have been a victim of cramming, contact your telephone company and ask to have the charges removed. You can also contact the company that issued the charge and ask for an explanation of those charges and an adjustment for any that are incorrect.
A new scam that targets wireless customers is called the “one ring” scam. In this scam, the victim receives a call that rings once or twice and then disconnects. The caller id will list a number with a three-digit area code as a missed call, or the scammer will leave a voicemail instructing them to call a number with a three-digit area code. The victim then calls the number back without realizing they are placing an international call. You can protect yourself by researching any unfamiliar area codes before dialing them to make sure they are domestic. If you do not make outgoing international calls, you can ask for the telephone company to block this service.
If you believe you have been the victim of one of these scams, you can contact the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors at 800.347.5297 for advice on how to handle the issue. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 877.382.4357 or Federal Communications Commission at 888.225.5322.
Miles holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems from Baker College of Owosso, Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Lake Superior State University, and graduated with his Juris Doctorate in 2013 from Michigan State University College of Law.
Before joining the Elder Law of Michigan team, he served as an intern at the United States Coast Guard Headquarters . As a legal assistant at ELM, Miles provides legal advice, under the supervision of our hotline attorneys, to Michigan Seniors on a wide-variety of areas, including Medicare/Medicaid. As a website administrator at ELM, Miles is responsible for technology and programming projects.