2 Investigators: New Phone Law Protects Consumers
Pam Zekman, CBS 2 Chicago
November 29, 2009 Chicago—Scam artists have been doing it for years: tricking people into signing up for costly phone services, often without knowing it. But not anymore in Illinois.

Sunday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a new law to protect you from those recurring charges. CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports the legislation all started with one of her investigations.

It's a scam that's called cramming as in cramming your phone bills with all kinds of mystery charges.

As CBS 2 Investigators disclosed last May, cramming complaints to state and federal authorities have more than doubled over the last year.

It can happen to you if, for example, you sign up on the Internet for something like product discounts. You may wind up like Dorothy Denton, with charges on your phone bill for services you did not want.

"I can't tell you how angry I am about this," she said. "It's not fair."

"Cramming is just another word for fraud," David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board, said at Sunday's bill-signing. "It's a scam that must end."

It could end with legislation signed by the governor to stop the practices the 2 Investigators disclosed.

"It's really wrong," Quinn said. "We need to make sure we take a stand on this and we use the law to help protect the people."

Jack Hall says his insurance agency's phone bills were crammed for more than a year with monthly charges for things like Internet dial-up and Web-hosting fees that Hall says he did not authorize.

"I feel like I'm stupid because of not catching this," he said. "And I don't think a lot of people are going to catch it because of the way they do the billing."

Under the new law, service providers would have to clearly disclose the charges and get a written authorization for them from the customer or hire an independent company to tape-record a verification of the charges -- using clear language.

Hall said when he heard the tape of a saleswoman pitching additional services to his office, he couldn't understand her.

"The lady talked so fast it was unbelievable," he said.

So were more than $1600 in charges he got refunded after weeks of arguing with several companies.

"I have blood pressure problems. I don't need this," Hall said.

No one does.

"We believe that all these provisions are going to lead to a dramatic reduction in cramming, saving consumers tons of money," said CUB's Kolata, who helped push for the bill.

State Rep. John Bradley of Marion, who sponsored the bill, was crammed. Now, the Attorney General's Office will have new powers to go after companies that do not comply with the requirements of his legislation.

But consumers must be sure to carefully read their phone bills to determine if they contain any unauthorized charges. And if they do, call both your phone company and the toll free 800 number that should appear next to the unauthorized charges to request that they be removed.

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