The Federal Communications Commission announced on Thursday it had slapped $11.7 million in fines on four telephone companies accused of scamming their customers with unauthorized charges.
So-called cramming occurs when a company charges consumers for unauthorized expenses.
"Cramming attacks consumers in the pocketbook, where it really hurts," said Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. "The Enforcement Bureau takes today's actions to protect thousands of consumers who appear to have been hoodwinked into paying for services they never wanted, ordered, or used."
According to the Bureau's investigation, the companies apparently charged thousands of customers for long-distance services they had not ordered.
The agency ordered Main Street Telephone; VoiceNet Telephone, LLC; Cheap2Dial Telephone, LLC; and Norristown Telephone, LLC; to pay fines ranging from $1.5 million to $4.2 million each. Each company has up to 30 days to respond. They can choose to pay or contest the fines.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has pushed for tighter regulation. He said he was pleased with the FCC action but that it doesn't go far enough.
"I don't believe it will be enough to stop the problem," Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement.
"For the past year, my Committee has examined cramming and third-party billing on telephone bills. What we've found is troubling. We know that the telephone companies' voluntary guidelines have failed to stop mystery fees. We know that additional disclosure requirements on telephone bills haven't fixed the problem."
Rockefeller said he plans to hold a hearing and release a report on the issue soon.