By Kristen Miller
COKATO, DASSEL, MN Donette Danberg of Cokato has decided to look more closely at each of her bills after she noticed an additional charge was tacked on to her CenturyLink phone bill this past winter.
The first incident likely occurred when her daughter, who had been home from college, inadvertently clicked on an Internet advertisement for a virtual fax. This resulted in an added $15 charge to Danberg’s bill.
The second occurrence was an automated message for an e-mail application that would have added charges to her phone bill had she not followed the directions to opt out of the service, Danberg explained.
After speaking with a CenturyLink representative, Danberg was informed the charges were a result of third-party billing.
Carrie Amann, a media specialist with CenturyLink, explained that third-party billing is in place so that customers can choose a different long-distance, voice-mail, and Internet provider other than their local phone company.
Such companies will then put related charges onto the customer’s phone bill, making it easier to charge their customers, Amann explained.
Billing unauthorized charges is called cramming, and it is something customers should be aware of, Amann advised.
Occasionally, dishonest companies use the billing arrangement they have with the local phone company to secretly defraud customers. Oftentimes, customers will have these unauthorized charges added to their bill without their, or the phone company’s knowledge.
Though local phone companies like CenturyLink can’t eliminate the third-party agreements, customers can request it to be blocked from their account.
If CenturyLink customers are finding such unauthorized charges on their bill, Amann encourages them to call CenturyLink at the number listed on the bill, or call the Chaska Retail Store at (952) 556-5679.
Customers are also encouraged to keep one’s computer security up-to-date to avoid unauthorized charges through the Internet.
She also recommends never giving out information to people you don’t know, and always reviewing your phone bill carefully.
“By working together, we can help reduce scams that take advantage of our customers,” Amann said.
Amann provided three common scams and how customers can protect themselves.
How it works: Phishing e-mail messages are designed to steal your identity. They get your personal data by directing you to phony, but very realistic “secure” Web sites. The phony URL is a total knock-off of a company’s legitimate log-in site. The sole purpose is to trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.
How to protect yourself: Legitimate companies don’t ask for personal information via e-mail. If you are concerned about your account, contact the company mentioned in the e-mail, using a telephone number you know to be genuine. Don’t cut and paste the link from the message into your Internet browser phishers can make links look like they go to one place, but that actually send you to a different site. Also, review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized charges.
How it works: Slamming is a term for an unauthorized change to your long distance company. This often happens when you sign up for a contest or other marketing promotion without checking the fine print. The company then has authority to switch you from your current long distance company. Cramming is similar, but involves a company placing an unauthorized miscellaneous charge on your phone bill. This could involve a charge for a voice mail service, Internet access services, or other service charges.
How to protect yourself: Read the fine print when you agree to a sales pitch or contest over the phone or in person and check all details on your phone bill regularly. If you see a suspicious charge, use the contact information provided to ask about the charge. If you cannot resolve the situation and you didn’t authorize the charge, contact CenturyLink. There are options available to block third-party billing so you don’t have to worry.
How it works: This is a general term that involves someone trying to convince you that they are someone they’re not, in order to collect critical personal information from you. Sometimes that person will claim to be a phone company representative. The person may say you overpaid your last phone bill and they need some information from you, including your Social Security number, to process a refund check.
How to protect yourself: Overpayments are almost always applied to your next bill with no need for further information to process a refund. Ask questions and for a callback number, but do not provide personal information over the phone or via e-mail.