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Volume xviii, Issue 3 ~ January 21 - January 27, 2010

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Take a Close Look at Your Phone Bill

Your ‘carrier’ may be doing more than trying to drive you crazy

Ring Lardner is keeping me from losing my mind over my phone company. Verizon’s resemblance to Alibi Ike in the great sports writer’s story about the ball player who can do no wrong gives me just enough perspective to stay sane.

Over the past four months, our home phone has been out of service for two months.

Good thing for cell phones, or I couldn’t call to report my trouble.

So I was close to losing it when charges on my new phone bill were 150 percent higher than usual. Analyzing all seven pages of it, husband and I — it took both of us — found one big surprise. As of December 2, we were being charged a monthly fee of $14.95 plus 30 cents tax for voicemail.

Neither of us had authorized the new service or knew anything about the company supposedly delivering it, Ideal Savings Now.

So yesterday I had two conversations with Alibi Ike. I mean Verizon.

Result of Conversation One: My fourth phone repair date is February 5.

Result of Conversation Two: Alibi Ike tells me that Verizon is carrying out the will of the Federal Communication Commission in billing me for any service any fly-by-night company chooses to attach to my bill. I can authorize Verizon to block such add-ons — who knew? — but Ideal Savings Now (nice name, don’t you think?) may still bill me.

Let’s get to the bottom of it, my husband advised, after the reverberations of my scream had died.

We tracked Ideal Savings Now online.

A website called Ripoff Report listed hundreds of complaints or references about voice mail add-ons dating back several years. Not all were linked to Verizon, but like the one below, many were.

Jan. 18, 2010–On my Verizon bill I discovered a charge of $14.95 plus $.46 tax that I didn’t recognize. It was charged by a voicemail company named: OAN Services: Ideal Savings Now, LLC, which I never heard of. I called Verizon ... while I was still on the line [the Verizon rep called] and inquired as to who opened the account. She was told by the voicemail company’s re., Ashley, that someone with an old email address I haven’t used for several years opened it on Dec. 16, 2009. I was promised that the charge would be credited to my account. I could not locate any address for this bogus voicemail company.

From the Better Business Bureau and the Maryland Attorney General, I learned the scam is called cramming.

Before mine, neither organization had received complaints about Ideal Saving Now.

“But I can give you supporting info that this is a real rip-off and how it works,” explained Better Business Bureau CEO Angie Barnett. “We see it more than we know, and people don’t realize it can happen to them. Check that bill each month!”

Both organizations have plenty to tell you about cramming, as does the FCC:

FCC: http://www.fcc.gov/cib/consumerfacts/cramming.html

The Better Business Bureau: http://www.abc2news.com/content/gmm/scam_alerts/story/SCAM-ALERT-Mystery-1-99-Verizon-Charge/lhS8CGjjc0yLYvrbM9FF2w.cspx

Maryland’s Attorney General: http://www.oag.state.md.us/consumer/tip68.htm

If you find you’ve been crammed, “file a complaint,” advises Raquel Guillory, director of communications for the Attorney General. “We’ll try to recoup the charges from the [cramming] company first, then from your phone company.”

As for Alibi Ike, Guillory says: “There’s a door open that Verizon lets people come through.”

The Editor Is In

Make 2010 the year you encounter your inner storyteller. The editor is in to meet aspiring Bay Weekly writers from 4 to 6pm on three January Thursdays: January 7, 14 and 21. Call early for your 15-minute appointment: 410-626-9888. Or, if you don’t mind a wait, drop in.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

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