Fred Wilber has been running what he calls an honest business -- Buch Spieler Music -- in Montpelier for 40 years.
But he recently fell victim to a dishonest business.
"It was called premium messaging and I didn't think a whole lot of it. I thought it was something my wife or daughter added to the policy," he said.
After paying a ten dollar miscellaneous charge on his family's cell phone plan for several months, Wilber began to question it. He called Verizon, who informed him he fell victim to cramming. It's where companies inform cell providers to slip charges onto someone's bill. But the charges are actually fake. The scammers hope they go unnoticed.
"The wireless carriers get paid for passing on these bills," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
It's a fast growing scam nationwide, with fake charges already appearing on the bills of at least 1,000 Vermonters -- including Sorrell's. "Believe it or not it was for something called mobile love, 9.99," Sorrell said.
The charges usually range between one to ten dollars and will keep appearing monthly unless the customer spots it and asks for it to be removed. The AG's office says about two-thirds of the known victims in Vermont were ripped off for months because the fees are hard to spot. "Typically in a separate section of the bill, charges from one to ten dollars, for things like voice services, ring tones, wallpaper on your cell phone, votes on a reality show," Sorrell said.
Sorrell said the blame may lie in several areas, including the major cell companies, who admit they are part of the problem and have agreed to cooperate with the nationwide investigation. "So they have systemic flaws and we are starting negotiations with the wireless industry to make changes to better protect consumers," Sorrell said.
"It was kind of new to me," Fred Wilber said. Wilber said Verizon tracked his problem to a text message he had ignored, saying he had to decline the offer not to be billed monthly. His account was credited and now has blocks from future spam calls and messages. He hopes by sharing his story, cell phone users will start taking a closer look at their bills each month. "That charge was slipped in and can go unnoticed if you are not paying attention to your bill," he said.
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