Cell Phone Scams Target Unsuspecting Teenagers

July 18, 2008

Better check your cell phone bill.  Especially if you have teenagers. 

Cell phone companies are billing customers for ringtones, wallpaper, horoscopes and a variety of other services advertised as “free.”  

The target?  Unsuspecting teenagers.

Here’s how the scam works:

Glitzy web ads offer cash prizes or free ringtones to customers who provide their cell phone telephone number.  There is absolutely no charge and a chance to win even more cash. At least that’s what it says in the regular size type that’s easy to read.

The tiny print outlining the “terms of service” tells a different story. The prize “service” is charged to your cellular phone and billed monthly with the cell phone carrier collecting a cut.

Not surprisingly, it’s tough to figure out what you’ve been charged for by looking at the bill.  The charges often appear under headlines such as Direct Bill Charges, 3rd Party Downloadable Content, Premium SMS Messages, Premium Text Messages, M-Qube and M-blox.

AT&T – formerly Cingular – already has agreed to pay back consumers under a settlement with Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. Check here to find out if you’re entitled to a refund.

The practice isn’t limited to AT&T.  Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, Nextel and T-Mobile all are under investigation by McCollum’s CyberFraud Task Force, a special team the Attorney General put together to investigate internet scams. The investigation isn’t limited to cell phone carriers. His office already has busted two online marketing companies.

Want to protect yourself? 

Call customer service and tell them to block all third party charges. The block keeps any company from billing your cell phone without your specific approval in advance.