Consumer Alert

Crist Launches Investigation into Phony Phone Charges

TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist today announced that his office has launched an investigation into five telephone companies for placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ bills. Charges for an internet shopping service have appeared on phone bills sent to BellSouth, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and SBC Communications customers, triggering the investigation into what might be a case of "cramming." Cramming is a practice that bills for extra services without the customer’s knowledge.

Crist’s Economic Crimes Division began the investigation last week after the Tallahassee Democrat detailed the charges that several Sprint customers found on their bills. The $12.95 charges are for a service called Email Discount Network, which supposedly offers members a discount for internet shopping done through the company’s website. Further investigation revealed that BellSouth, AT&T, SBC Communications and Verizon customers also found the unauthorized charges on their bills. According to Florida Statutes Ch. 364.604, phone companies are responsible for third-party billers who place charges on the phone bills.

"These secret charges were placed on bills in hopes that no one would notice," said Crist. "In this case, someone did notice and we will investigate fully to make sure Florida customers are not forced to pay for services they did not order and do not want."

According to the Southeast Florida Better Business Bureau, a number of complaints have been filed against the Plantation-based Email Discount Network as well as VoiceMail, a company that shares Email Discount's mailing address and employs similar billing practices. Crist encouraged any consumers who believe they have similarly inaccurate charges on their phone bills to call his Fraud Hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226.)