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Premium Text Messaging ...Cellular Slamming and Cramming

      The word "Premium" sounds "special" or "valuable" doesn't it? Unfortunately, it is evolving a new meaning, one not so "good" sounding. Premium text messaging refers to using your cell phone as a means of billing through your phone company by way of your text messaging service.

      You really need to read every billing statement carefully so that you can detect when these little extras creep onto your bill. It is like using your cell phone as a credit card that doesn't have the consumer protection that a normal credit card is afforded.

      What are those little extras? For one example, unscripted television shows like Fox's hit show "American Idol," NBC's "Deal or No Deal," CBS's "Big Brother" and others build viewer loyalty and collect additional revenue by allowing viewers to participate through text messaging. The fee is usually $1 per text, and viewers don't seem to object. What's wrong with this? Nothing, as long as the participants have been informed about these charges and understand them. Sneaky, unreadable fine print at the bottom of the page does not constitute fair and ethical practice.

      Another practice that doesn't come across quite so clean is "subscription" services. Subscriptions to jokes, ring tones, and all sorts of other "stuff" is marketed and billed through text messages. The marketing is often sneaky and deceptive. The advertisement appearing on your phone screen may offer "free" ring tones, for example. There is probably some well-obscured and unreadable fine print telling you that by accepting the "free" whatever, you are subscribing to a monthly subscription for which you will be billed. If and when you notice that you are being billed for something extra and complain to the phone company, they will not reverse the charges. They may block the subscription or tell you how to cancel it if you ask.

      This kind of scam can happen to anyone, but children and teenagers are especially targeted. If you have a family cell phone plan, you need to give your children and teenagers very detailed instructions on what not to do with the cell phone. You also need to inspect every statement very carefully.

      Many individuals have complained about charges showing up on their bill from sources that they have had absolutely no contact with. Some unscrupulous scammers simply sign cell phone accounts up at random and bill them. Some of the charges will go un-noticed for some time before they get questioned. Your phone company doesn't protect you. You get stuck with the bill.

      This whole practice of "Premium Text Messaging" is reminiscent of the "Pay per call" 900 number scams that became very unpopular in the 1980's and 1990's. Laws were passed to protect consumers against this practice, but there are no laws yet to protect consumers from "Premium Text Messaging."

      How can you protect yourself? You can block all text messaging services on all of your phones until the industry and government regulators take consumer protection seriously. If everyone did this at once, consumer protection laws and practices would be in place before the week was over.

      In the mean time, protect yourself and wait until enough people have been harmed and pissed off to get some action. (31)

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