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FCC cracks down on unauthorized phone charges

The commission approves a proposal to improve the notification of third-party charges on a phone bill, an act known as "cramming."

The Federal Communications Commission approved a proposal today to give consumers the ability to better identify and complain about unauthorized charges on their phone bill.

Julius Genachowski
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski FCC

The actions are part of the FCC's move to crack down on an illegal practice called "cramming," in which third parties will sneak in charges on phone bills for services that consumers haven't asked for and often don't know about.

"It's a serious and continuing problem for wireline customers, and an emerging problem for wireless customers as well," Chairman Julius Genachowski said on Tuesday during an FCC meeting.

The new rules require wireline phone companies to notify consumers at the point of sale, on the Web site, and on their phone bills of the option to block all third-party charges. The companies must also separate third-party charges into their own section on the phone bill. Wireline and wireless phone companies must also provide the contact information to allow consumers to complain to the FCC on the phone bills as well.

The FCC is also looking at whether the third parties should have their contact information on the phone bill, whether carriers should screen those third parties for past illegal activities, and whether the rules should be applied to wireless carriers and Internet phone providers.

Genachowski said the new rules empower consumers without placing an undue burden on the carriers.

"This is a particularly timely item that brings much needed relief for the thousands of consumers who complain to the FCC each year about charges on their phone bills," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. He added that the true number of victims is likely well above the number that have complained to the commission.