1. If I disagree with a ringtone (or other third-party charge) on my wireless phone bill, to whom do I complain?
Based upon California law, you have the right to complain directly to the phone company, which is required to investigate your complaint when there is no proof you authorized the charge. Complaints whould be done by phone and followed up in writing a dispute letter sent certified receipt requested. Unauthorized charges are called "Cramming" and are illegal. You also have the right to call and write complaint disputes to the phone company's billing agent (if different than the phone company), as well as directly to the ringtone, screen-saver or other service provider. If "Cramming" has occurred, you are advised to file an on-line complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission. You are adivsed to print a copy of this complaint and to make sure you know the time and date it was sent.
2. Do I have to authorize the wireless company to put these kinds of charges on my bill?
This is a complicated question because of the way cell phone contracts and terms and conditions on their web sites are written. The surface answer is Yes. But the reality is that the basic premise cell phone companies have is that you automatically "opt-in" when you sign up for service. Therefore, you must immediately "opt-out" and have all Internet access blocked if you do not want to end up fighting unathorized download or text messaging charges. If you sign up for a "free" ringtone or screen-saver, you must "unsubscribe" to that service or the downloads will continue to be delivered even though you have blocked Internet access; not allowing you to see what is sent. All of the major third party companies provide a way for you to cancel/stop the downloads immediately. You may have to go to their web site and follow the directions or you can unsubscribe right from your cell phone. If you want to use Internet access on your cell phone, sign up for ringtones, screen-savers and other options, you should request a cell phone plan that includes a flat monthly charge. Read your contract terms and conditions very carefully before you sign!
3. Can I revoke my authorization to allow subscriptions to ringtone, screen-saver, and other optional charges on my cell phone bill?
YES. You may demand that future charges not appear on your cell phone bill by simply calling your cell phone company and following the suggestions above. You will need to revoke your authorization for ANY monthly subscription you want excluded from your phone bill to the company and by unsubscribing to the service(s) as stated above. The phone company must subsequently remove any monthly download charges from your phone bill, despite the fact that you originally authorized it.
4. Can the wireless company try to collect on these kinds of charges if I contest them?
MAYBE. The wireless company MUST make proof available to you that you 1) authorized the wireless company to put the charges on your bill generally, and 2) that you specifically authorized the charges from the ringtone, screen-saver, or other provider. Without proof of authorization, the cell phone company is required to credit your account for the charge immediately and remove charges from your bill.
5. Can my phone be disconnected if I contest these charges?
NO WAY. Your phone's service may not be disconnected or suspended for failure to pay non-basic phone charges on your telephone bill. On every bill containing "other" charges, and at any time your phone company is discussing non-payment of these other charges with you, the phone company is required to notify you clearly of your right to continue phone service despite non-payment of these unatuhorized and disputed charges.
6. Where on the Web can I find the specific rules that apply to the wireless company and the third-party that is charging me for these services?
7. Are there other customers who are being scammed by these ringtone companies?
YES. UCAN has received complaints regarding abuse of customers' phone bills for ringtones, screen-savers, unauthorized text messages, etc. There are complaints against ringtone companies throughout the United States as well as other regions of the world. There are also numerous lawsuits that have been filed against ringtone, screen-saver, and other download services. As customers continue to file on-line complaints with the CPUC at www.cpuc.ca.gov and as they report their complaints to companies, consumer advocacy groups and post complaints on web sites dedicated to reviewing and monitoring these complaints, companies will start getting the message that more lawsuits will be filed if the practices don't change. Although the telecommunications protections in California have been drastically reduced in the last two years, the "cramming" protections remain in place as an illegal act under CPUC Codes 2889.9 and 2890.