HIGHTOWER: Beware of Your Phone Bill

Time for another foray [Far-out Space Music] into the Far, Far, FAR -OUT Frontiers of Free Enterprise.Today, Spaceship Hightower pays a visit to the incomprehensible world of your phone bill. Last year, Congress OK'd a new Telecommunications Act. Thanks to it, your once-simple phone bill can now present a dazzling array of charges from various phone companies, including charges you don't owe.Ask Ernest Goldstein. According to the Austin American-Statesman, his monthly bill from Southwestern Bell, included a $10 charge from Coastal Telephone Company, which Goldstein described as "a total stranger to me." Since he had not made the calls charged to him, he called Southwestern Bell, where he was told to call Coastal. He did, but was transferred to yet another company called Axcess Communications.Axcess was not open to discussion, saying the billing to Goldstein was accurate. So back he went to Southwestern Bell, which ran a check and found that -- oops? Ha Ha! -- there had been a mix-up between Goldstein's phone number and someone else's."Fine", said Goldstein, "Pay back my ten bucks." "Sure", said his friendly Bell representative, "after we get paid back by Coastal or Axcess or whoever actually handled the calls you didn't make." And while he was getting the long-distance run around on this bill, he got another bill from Southwestern that included more erroneous charges from the elusive Coastal Communications.Goldstein's experience is not unique, as more and more of our bills are being [quote] "crammed," -- Crammed is an industry term meaning to load-up monthly billings with bogus charges. Most of us are not as attentive or as persistent as Goldstein, so these little ripoffs are plenty profitable for the phone companies.This is Jim Hightower saying...Thanks, Congress, for doing this to us.Source:"Unauthorized phone charges up" by Bruce Hight. Austin American-Statesman: Nov. 22, 1997.

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