Off-Topic PSA: Beware of Cramming

Unrelated to cramming for certification exams, but back in March I started getting strange text messages in the middle of the night – sometimes multiple times a night.  The texts varied between celebrity gossip and animal trivia.  For example:

“Lindsay Lohan’s dad, Michael Lohan, and girlfriend Kate Major are expecting their first child together. For HELP call 18888906150”

The source of the text varied – showing numbers like 835-77, 770-50 and 258-70 – but the text always contained a “For HELP call 18888906150” part of the message.  I was worried to call the number, thinking I might get charged, and I was also worried about replying STOP, again because I’ve heard you could be charged (or worse – they find out they have a live person on the other end who they can spam more).

Unfortunately until this month, I didn’t pay this issue much attention.  My excuse?  When you’re woken up at 2AM – it is very annoying – but then by 6AM I’ve already forgotten that it happened or have other things to attend to.  In the meantime, the frequency of messages increased, and after getting spam texts multiple times last night, I finally researched the number and found out a few things. 

Turns out this was classic “cramming” – where a company places unauthorized charges on your telephone bill.  I reviewed my cell phone bill and found charges like the following:

8. 06/04 Multiple Types: 9.99 0.00 9.99
Short Code: 77050 ID: 35041
Provider: BuneUS
Contact: 1-800-331-0500
Renew Date: 07/03/2012

10. 05/18 Multiple Types: 9.99 0.00 9.99
Short Code: 58497 ID: 36301
Provider: Mobibro
Contact: www.att.com/mobilepurchases
Renew Date: 06/17/2012

04/02 Multiple Types: 72139 9.99 0.00 9.99
Short Code: 72139 ID: 35821
Provider: Wise Media
Contact: 1-800-331-0500
Renew Date: 05/01/2012

Since March I’ve been charged by three different providers – $9.99 each for these nightly text messages.

Here is what I did, and we’ll see if it helps (and your method will vary, so I’m just sharing my experience so far):

  • I called AT&T and they revoked the charges that were over the last 60 days.  We’ll see about the other charges, but I may be out of luck on the other months that I didn’t notice.
  • I asked AT&T to block all third party charges.  They added a free service to block this from happening and gave me a PIN in order to authorize third party charges in the future.
  • I asked AT&T to unsubscribe me from the paid services.  We’ll see tonight if that worked.
  • I logged a complaint on http://www.fcc.gov/complaints (Jon recommended this)

My lessons learned?

  • If I’m getting strange text messages – don’t wait FIVE months to research.
  • Don’t assume that a spam text isn’t causing charges.  It probably is.
  • Get the third party charge block on any new cell phone line.

Again, this post is off-topic, but hopefully it will help others who encounter similar issues.

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