It started as a free offer that hit the Heroux family hard.
Elisa Heroux's teenage son tried to claim a free offer on the Internet. As a result, the whole family learned a big lesson.
"They were billing us for at least a year for a WATs line that we were not using," she said.
WATs is a type of phone line.
"Once they understood the implications of what they had done, which really wasn't much, I mean ... giving a name, address and phone number," she said.
Initially that information doesn't seem overly sensitive, but quickly the Heroux' phone bill was crammed with charges for a phone line they didn't order and didn't use.
The Oklahoma Attorney General's
Public Protection staff hears about these freebies that end up costing people every day. The unit can be reached by calling (405) 521-2029.
"There's also now a lot of free offers on the Internet," said Julie Bayes, chief of the Public Protection Unit. "Or you think they're free. Nothing in life is free."
Some free offers lead to monthly charges, others are mining for personal information. If you've given out information over the Internet and fear your identity may have been stolen, or you want to take steps to prevent it from being stolen, visit the FTC's "Deter, Detect and Defend"
"It'll say the free iPad or whatever and you'll go through and fill out all this information and get to the end and it seems like you'll never get to the end," said Bayes, who recommends never clicking on a pop-up or a link posted on social media. "Because you don't know what's behind that. It could be a virus or it could be identity theft, it could be anything."
Rather, if you're interested in the offer, navigate to the company's actual site. And always use a credit card for online purchases.
"We would suggest that they never use a debit card on the Internet," said Bayes, because that money comes directly from your checking account and repeat charges or overcharges can quickly throw your account into the red.
After the Heroux' year-long battle, they finally got the $120 in incorrect charges removed from their phone bill by turning to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for help.
Elisa Heroux took a defensive step too.
"I have something on file now with the phone company where they cannot make any changes to my account unless they get it in writing from me," she said.
So how do you prevent this from happening to you?
-- Call your phone company and ask them to block charges from third parties.
-- Only use your credit card when paying for something online.
-- Do not click on pop-ups or links and be skeptical of everything because most of those "free" offers will likely cost you.
2NEWS reached out to three of the major phone carriers about blocking third party charges on your phone bill.
Customers can block charges for third-party content from appearing on their bill. Sprint offers this service free of charge. To do so:
-- Customers should log into their account on sprint.com and update their "Limits and Permission" setting to block premium content.
-- Customers may also press *2 on their wireless device and a Customer Care representative can place the block for them.
AT&T responded with this link to their "Smart Controls"
products which is specific to wireless service.
Verizon in March 2012 notified billing aggregators and carriers that, by the end of the year, the company would no longer provide third-party billing services for miscellaneous or enhanced services associated with its landline business. This decision reinforced Verizon's long-standing commitment to try to prevent cramming, and reflected our belief that some third-party billing has too often led to consumers being crammed for services not willingly ordered.
Verizon will continue to offer billing services for third-party charges that result from use of our landline network (where there are reliable records of use of the service) and for strategic partners such as DIRECTV.
On Verizon's wireless side a spokesperson sent the following information but never replied to questions about blocking third party billing for their wireless customers.
CTIA-The Wireless Association® Commends FTC For Its Case to Stop Unauthorized Charges on Consumers Bills
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2013 - In response to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filing its first case against unauthorized charges on consumers' mobile monthly bills, CTIA-The Wireless Association® Senior Vice President and General Counsel Michael Altschul said:
"CTIA commends the FTC for its action today to add enforcement and deterrence to the wireless industry's already extensive efforts to combat cramming. It's our members' priority to ensure their customers have a positive wireless experience.
"We also applaud our members that assisted the FTC with its investigation and ultimately the charges that stopped this unscrupulous company's actions.
"The overwhelming majority of the premium
subscription SMS campaigns, such as Major League Baseball's offerings or presidential campaign donations, comply with the Mobile Marketing Association's Code of Conduct. These Best Practices require users to double opt-in to subscribe to premium SMS messages, and these codes are monitored at least once a month to ensure compliance with the MMA. To those companies that are not compliant, they must change their practices, or we will continue to aid the FTC to find and shut down any improper business.
"Finally, nonprofit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, are able to solicit donors via text message with the donation being added to the customers' monthly bills."
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