BUSINESS
01/25/2013 04:09 pm ET

Cell Phone 'Cramming' Balloons Business Owner's Bill To $300 For Unused Device

Ever open your phone bill and notice that it's mysteriously higher than it should be? You aren't alone. What's more, you might be a victim of phone "cramming" and could stand to recoup some of your hard-earned money.

Brett Strauss is one such victim. Strauss bought a cell phone from AT&T for his small business in Dallas, Texas. The device went unused for several months, yet somehow racked up more than $300 in charges from unknown third-party services during that time.

Those fees were pushed onto his bill by "crammers," companies that send unsolicited text messages and other features to phones, then charge the recipient unless they contact the company and opt out. Typically, "cramming" fees are small enough (anywhere from a couple cents to upwards of $10) that the recipient overlooks the charges and pays the monthly bill without asking questions.

But when an unused phone racks up hundreds of dollars in unsolicited services, that's a clear indicator of dubious business practices.

Reached for comment by NBC, an AT&T spokesman confirmed Strauss' phone had been dormant but couldn't explain how the charges, originating from a Los Angeles company called GoLiveMobile, had appeared.

In theory, recipients of crammed messages have to opt-in for the services. In practice, this is not always the case.

Indeed, according to a press release from the FTC, these shady messaging tactics have become a cash cow for some companies offering what the agency describes as "'premium services' that provide trivia or horoscope information by text message to a consumer’s phone." MSNBC reports an estimated 20 million people fall victim to to cramming each year, yet only one in 20 takes notice.

As for Strauss, AT&T refunded his $318 after he called the company to complain. Thousands more, however, are still getting scammed. If you suspect you're being hit with "cramming" charges, speak with your phone service provider and file a complaint with the FTC online or via telephone at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

For more information on cramming and how to identify and protect yourself from it, visit the FTC page on cramming and mystery phone charges.

PHOTO of Brett Strauss and his son, Connor.
cell phone cramming

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