Warning that incidents of wireless bill “cramming” are bound to escalate as mobile payments continue to surge in popularity, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a set of voluntary guidelines on Monday to assist wireless carriers and third-party service providers in avoiding unauthorized charges on subscriber bills. Issued as part of an FTC staff report, the guidelines were released in advance of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday at which lawmakers took up the issue of wireless billing practices. The guidelines also come on the heels of the FTC’s recent lawsuit against T-Mobile USA, which the agency accused earlier this month of profiting from hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent third-party charges that were added to consumer bills without the consent of T-Mobile subscribers.
Noting that mobile cramming “has affected millions of consumers,” Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection observed that “the best practices recommended in our report build upon the FTC’s active enforcement in this area and would give consumers needed protections to rein in the problems we have seen.” Specifically, the guidelines suggest that wireless carriers should (1) inform customers when they are being charged for third-party services, (2) provide customers with a way of contesting or opting out of third-party charges, and (3) investigate any third-party charges that appear to be suspicious. Third-party providers, meanwhile, are urged to specify the costs of their products and services and to obtain the “express, informed consent” of consumers before they are billed. While they lack the force of law, the guidelines are expected to provide wireless carriers with a glimpse into the criteria the FTC would consider in deciding to pursue lawsuits against cramming.