Senate Dem: Phone companies ‘robbed customers’

Major phone companies have been bilking their subscribers by allowing outside firms to place hidden charges on their phone bills month after month, according to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Blumenthal praised recent action by the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to force T-Mobile and AT&T to pay nearly $200 million over the charges and criticized companies for allowing them in the first place.

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“Unauthorized and unscrupulous third-party charges — hidden in bills through vague and deceptive language — have robbed consumers and they deserve their money back,” he said in a statement distributed on Tuesday.

“Carriers who continue to profit from allowing third-parties to deceive their customers through cramming must take notice and reform their practices immediately — or face harsh penalties.”

Earlier this month, T-Mobile agreed to pay at least $90 million over charges that it allowed companies to charge subscribers for flirting tips, horoscopes and other services without their knowledge or permission. In October, AT&T agreed to pay $105 million for similar charges. 

Most of the money from the companies will go to refund consumers affected by the charges.

The act of adding outside charges to people’s bills without their knowledge is known as cramming.

“Cramming is modern day pickpocketing,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said in a statement accompanying Blumenthal's. “These bogus charges on consumer bills are unfair — and they can add up fast.”

Phone companies that cram on their consumers’ bills have become a recent focus of regulators and lawmakers’ attention in Washington.

In addition to the regulatory action, the Senate Commerce Committee this summer released a report finding that the practice was widespread among mobile phone companies.