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.)

Comments (10)
  1. jon says:

    How do you not notice a $17 a month charge? No wonder people are so in debt and living in homes they cannot afford right now. Take some responsibility people.

    1. Paul says:

      So companies should be allowed to add unauthorized charges to your phone bill as long as you don’t notice it? Just trying to figure out your perspective.

      1. Jon Lindquist says:

        sounds more like he is saying if you miss a $17 charge then what else could people be missing?

    2. Peter says:

      Because for folks like me with large incomes, $17 is a penny spent that can be unnoticed for months. We don’t foreclose on our homes because of that, or are buried in debts. Still doen’t make it OK to do! Get a life and start thinking before typing such comments.

  2. Dale McKeen says:

    Rhis was/ a common practice with the old Northwester Bell, If you denied a charge on your bill the put it into a slush fund for rhw next billing cycle, in which they scattered the charges to larger usage customers, hoping that the charge would get lost in the maze.

  3. Charyl says:

    i just discovered a company called CompleHome was taking $14.95 a month from my bank account,. They told me they got my information from a catalog company in Jan 2010. I hadn’t had an order from that company since May 2009. They also told me it would have been unlawful for them to share my account information. Long story short, I am SOL. Is it only the phone company that law which was referenced in the news story, or is it all hidden companies??

  4. Sammy says:

    A simple fix would be to have Qwest or who ever sends you the bill, pay you back 10X what the flase charge was. Gee I’ll bet this would go away in a hurry…

  5. Alert U says:

    Well here goes the anti-business over regulation of these Democrat politicians. Qwest ought to donate a portion of its profits to Michelle Bachmann who smartly overlooks these fair and balanced job enhancing practices. These two ladies should find something better to do than over-reach the heavy hand of big government into the profits of job producing private companies. A measly $17 a month is so much better for the health of Wall St. compared to the Socialist of Democrats.

    And, if you agree with this; you are stupid because I am not. Much love to Rachel Maddow and Ed, and Keith, and…….all!

  6. gtV says:

    It’s about time the MN AG Lori Swanson and US Sen. Amy Klobuchar go after these phone scammers. Once you have been billed by these nefarious brigands through Qwest billings it becomes a time consuming mess to clear their charges off.

    Also, while the AG and Senator are at it with Qwest over this issue maybe these folks can get Qwest to streamline and make their monthly bills easier to read. I may a have a degree in communications and English with business minors but a PhD dissertation on the “magnetic flux variations of fissionable components of ion/plasmic propulsion systems” is easier to read than the Qwest, or for that matter, the XCel etc. monthly statements. No wonder why these companies want you to go paperless and on-line! QWest is the worst statement to read! Now you see why scammers can laugh all the way to their banks. Who can intelligently discern the monthly statement???

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Watch & Listen LIVE