Truth-in-Billing For Telephone Bills


CONSUMER
INFORMATION

Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554

Truth-in-Billing
For Telephone Bills

The FCC has seen a tremendous growth in consumer complaints directly or indirectly arising out of the failure of telephone bills to provide consumers with essential information in a clear and conspicuous manner. Consumer confusion over telephone bills has significantly contributed to the growth of slamming, cramming and other types of telecommunications fraud.

Slamming is a term used to describe any practice that changes a telephone subscriber's preferred telephone company to another company without the subscriber's knowledge or consent. Cramming is a term oftentimes used to describe the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on consumers' telephone bills.

Entities that engage in these practices appear to rely heavily on consumer confusion over telephone bills to mislead consumers into paying for services that were not authorized or received.

This brochure summarizes the actions the FCC has taken to ensure that consumers have the information they need to determine what services have been provided, the charges assessed for those services, and which entities provided those services.

This basic information will empower consumers to protect themselves from telecommunications fraud and to make informed choices when they shop around in the competitive telecommunications marketplace to find the best deal for the services they want to use.

This brochure also includes tips for consumers on how protect themselves from telecommunications fraud and save money.


Charges, Changes and Contacts The FCC's Three C's for Consumer Protection

The FCC has proposed the following "truth-in-billing" guidelines that will improve consumer understanding of their telephone bills:

  • Telephone bills should be clearly organized and highlight any new charges or changes to consumers' services since the last bill.

  • Telephone bills should contain full and non-misleading descriptions of all charges and clear identification of the service provider responsible for each charge.

  • Telephone bills should clearly and conspicuously specify who consumers should contact regarding inquiries and complaints about charges and services listed on their telephone bills.
T he FCC has requested comment on these proposed guidelines from the states, consumer groups, the industry, and the general public.

The FCC has also requested comment on any other proposals that will provide consumers with the information they need to protect themselves from fraudulent or deceptive practices and to make service and rate comparisons to determine the best value for the telephone services they want to use.

A text version of the FCC's proposals is available on the FCC's Web Site at:
http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/Notices/1998/fcc98232.txt


Other Consumer Protection Actions Taken by the FCC

The FCC recently worked with the local telephone companies and providers of billing and collection services to develop industry best practices guidelines to combat cramming practices on consumers' telephone bills. These guidelines primarily address the relationship between local telephone companies and the service providers for whom they provide billing services.

The anti-cramming best practices guidelines are available on the FCC's Web Site at: http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/Other/cramming/cramming.html


How to Protect Yourself and Save Money

  • Carefully review your telephone bill every month.

    Treat your telephone service just like any other major consumer purchase. You should review your monthly telephone bills just as closely as you review your monthly credit card and bank statements.

    Ask yourself the following questions as you review your telephone bills:

    • "Do I recognize the names of all of the companies listed on my bill?"

    • "What services were provided by the listed companies?"

    • "Does the bill include charges for calls I did not place and services I did not authorize?"

    • "Are the rates charged by each company consistent with the rates that the company quoted to me?"

    Keep in mind that you may sometimes be billed for a call you placed or a service you used -- but the description listed on your telephone bill for the call or service may be unclear. If you don't know what service was provided for a charge listed on your bill, ask the company that billed the charge to explain the service provided before paying the bill.

  • The cost of small, incorrect charges for telephone-related services adds up over time. Make sure you know what service was provided for small charges. Crammers often try to go undetected by submitting $2.00 or $3.00 charges to many thousands of customers.

  • Keep a record of the telephone services you have authorized and used -- including calls placed to 900 numbers and other types of telephone information services. These records can be helpful when billing descriptions are unclear.

  • Carefully read all forms and promotional materials -- including all of the fine print -- before signing up for telephone services.

  • Companies compete for your telephone business. Use your buying power wisely and shop around.

    If you think that a company's charges are too high or that their services do not meet your needs, contact other companies and try to get a better deal.


FCC Consumer Information on Telephone-Related Issues

Consumer information about slamming, cramming and other telephone-related issues is available on the FCC's Web Site at: http://www.fcc.gov/ccb/consumer_news/

You can also obtain consumer information on telephone-related issues by calling the FCC's toll-free 1-888-225-5322 voice number or the FCC's toll-free 1-888-835-5322 TTY number.



Produced by: The Common Carrier Bureau Enforcement Division January 1999
Form No. CCB-FS016