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Swanson, Klobuchar Go After Phone Bill ‘Cramming’

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — With U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar at her side, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson announced a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania-based long-distance service Friday as part of a crackdown on a phone-billing practice known as cramming.

Swanson sued Cheap2Dial Telephone LLC, alleging that the Harrisburg, Pa.-based company billed more than 2,500 Minnesota consumers for an estimated $179,000 worth of long-distance services they didn’t authorize or use. Swanson appeared with a half dozen sharp-eyed consumers who spotted the monthly charges of about $17 on their land-line bills, but the attorney general said many others probably never noticed the fees.

“It may seem small although it doesn’t get by Minnesotans cause they’re so frugal and prudent,” Klobuchar said. “But when you add it up nationally it literally could be in the billions of dollars because of the fact that it’s going on and on and on.”

An e-mail message to Cheap2Dial seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned. A call to its main phone number was left on indefinite hold.

Swanson and Klobuchar, both Democrats, outlined what they said is a growing problem and steps they are taking to curb it. Cramming is when outside services put unauthorized charges on consumer phone bills, usually through billing aggregators that pay phone companies to include the charge on the monthly paperwork. Swanson said her office is investigating about six other cramming cases.

Klobuchar, who serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, said she wants to help craft federal legislation to protect consumers from the unwanted charges. She said she is also looking at phone companies’ role in allowing the fees to go through. She said the panel is likely to hold a hearing on cramming in March or April.

A 2004 Minnesota law requires phone companies to reimburse consumers for up to six months of illegitimate charges, but Swanson said the law isn’t always followed.

Greg Carlson, 48, of Eagan, said it took him five months to notice Cheap2Dial charges on his monthly Qwest bill. Qwest eventually refunded the charges.

“Realistically, we got scammed because we were on autopay and we were living our life and we weren’t looking at the bills every month,” he said.

Swanson warned consumers to keep a close eye on their phone bills.

“People need to scrutinize their phone bills every bit as carefully as you’d look at your credit card statement or your bank statement,” she said.

WCCO-TV’s Holly Wagner Reports

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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