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Rip-Off Alert: Check phone bill for unusual charges

Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 6/17/2014 7:28 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV — Consumers need to check their phone bill carefully as scammers can add on charges. In this Rip-Off Alert from San Francisco, tens of thousands of consumers were bilked out of millions.

Clark Beermann found unusual charges buried below taxes and fees.

“You’d have to be a genius to figure out all the taxes and numbers on here,” he said. “This one particular item kept showing up. This is where I found the charge they were sticking on my bill.”

For most people who got targeted in this scam, it ranged from around $13 to $40.

“In this case there were tens of thousands of cramming victims and losses totaled over $22 million,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Andrew Wang.

Two scam artists, working through a middle man, told phone companies that various consumers and businesses had agreed to pay a monthly fee for their service — an internet directory. The truth?

“They were perpetrating a false billing scheme,” Wang said.

In other words, the con artists were billing people who never ordered their service. The scam is called telephone cramming, the placement of unauthorized charges on to a consumer or business’s telephone bill.

The victims, most of whom never noticed the charge, included thousands of business owners like Beermann who eventually complained to their phone company.

Those complaints ended up in the hands of U.S. postal inspectors who busted the operation.

“It might have been going on for a year; it could have gone on forever,” Beermann said.

Two brothers pulled off this scheme. One was convicted of mail fraud and money laundering and sentenced to 30 months behind bars. The other was convicted of mail fraud and served a 20-month sentence.

They invested most of their illegal proceeds in real estate, some of which the government seized. The victims received only pennies back on every dollar they lost.

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