Wednesday, February 02, 2011

FTC to Hold Public Forum on “Cramming”

This posting was written by Darius Sturmer, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

The FTC announced that it will host a public forum in Washington, D.C. on May 11, 2011, to examine how the government, businesses, and consumer protection organizations can work together to prevent consumers from being hit with unauthorized third-party charges on their phone bills—a practice known as "cramming."

Despite its ongoing enforcement efforts, the agency noted, cramming continues to harm individuals and small businesses. Therefore, it is holding this forum to determine what more can be done to prevent it.

Government agencies, consumer advocates, and industry representatives are invited to participate in the forum to discuss ways to reduce cramming through business practices, law enforcement, and possible legislation.

Participants will be asked to take up specific ideas such as allowing consumers to request a block on all third-party billing, and requiring third parties to get written approval from consumers before placing charges on their phone bills.

Other issues forum participants will discuss include:
(1) How telephone bill cramming harms individual consumers and small businesses;

(2) How consumers and competition can benefit from third-party billing on telephone bills for products and services such as voicemail, developing or hosting websites, or other enhanced services;

(3) The steps that billing companies and telephone carriers currently take to detect, monitor, and prevent cramming;

(4) Best practices being used by the industry to reduce cramming, such as improving disclosure of third-party charges to consumers; and

(5) The types of goods and services charged on telephone bills, and the difference between landline and wireless billing practices.

Persons interested in being panelists may submit requests by sending an e-mail by March 4 to: Requests should include a statement detailing any relevant expertise in working on or studying cramming, especially the topics specified above, and complete contact information. Panelists selected to participate will be notified by April 8, 2011.

The FTC also invites the public to submit comments online on any of the topics mentioned above, using the form available here.

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