"Slamming" and "cramming" may sound like physical assaults, but they are crimes that show up in unexpected costs on telephone bills.
As Part of National Consumer Protection Week, which continues through Saturday, the Nevada Attorney General's Office is warning the state's telephone users about these practices and how not to be caught by them.
The Federal Communications Commission has identified slamming as the No. 1 complaint consumers have about telephone service.
Slamming is the switching of a consumer's long-distance company or local toll carrier without customer authorization. Typically, consumers become aware they have been slammed because their calling cards or other telecommunications services no longer work, or they notice on their monthly billing statement that their services are now being provided by another telephone company.
This is because their services have been switched to another carrier without their consent. The process of switching back to the preferred company can be tiresome and costly.
The Nevada Legislature made slamming a deceptive trade practice in the state.
To protect consumers from slamming, the Nevada Attorney General's Office recommends: - Call your local telephone company and request a "preferred interexchange carrier freeze." This requires the local telephone company to obtain your authorization prior to making the switch to another carrier. - Review your monthly telephone bills carefully. If there is a company providing service you did not authorize, call your local telephone company and also the company that is billing you.
Cramming is the illegal practice of placing charges for unauthorized services on a consumer's telephone bill.
These charges, which usually appear as a monthly fee, can be for a variety of services, including paging service, voice mail, long distance calling cards, personal 800 numbers, 900 number membership clubs and psychic help services. The Nevada Legislature also included an "anti-cramming" provision.
Typically, charges for these services range from less than $5 per month to more than $50. Unfortunately, these charges sometimes go unnoticed on a person's telephone bill for several months.
To avoid cramming:
- Review your telephone bill carefully each month. If any charges or company names that are unfamiliar to you appear on your bill, call your local telephone company and request an explanation of your bill.
- Carefully read all forms and promotional materials when signing up for telephone services.
- Do not divulge personal information such as telephone number, credit card or Social Security numbers on sweepstakes or raffle tickets. Telephone-related services are sometimes offered to consumers in solicitations that include other offers of free products, discount coupons or savings travel packages.
In accepting these offers, consumers are often unaware they will be billed for services they did not authorize.
- Keep a record of the telephone services you have authorized and used, including calls placed to 900 numbers and other types of information services.
- Do not accept collect calls from unfamiliar persons.
- Beware of faxes, e-mail, voice mail and pages requesting a return call to an unfamiliar number.
- Know the area code location you are dialing. If you are unfamiliar with the area code, consult your local telephone directory.
- Be careful when calling unfamiliar 800 or 900 numbers. Be especially wary of following instructions to enter activation code numbers or of answering "yes" to questions that may unwittingly result in authorizing unwanted telephone services.
If you discover unauthorized charges on your telephone bill or that your telephone company has been switched without your knowledge, contact your local telephone company and explain your concerns about unclear or unauthorized charges on your bill. You should also send a written complaint to:
Nevada Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection, 1000 East William Street Suite 200, Carson City NV 89701-3117, or call (775) 687-6300 for Carson City, (702) 486-3786 for Las Vegas or (775) 688-1958 for Reno.
Consumer protection information is available on the Attorney General's Web site at www.state.nv.us/ag/.