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Howard Ain, Troubleshooter: Mystery phone bill charges

CINCINNATI (Howard Ain) -- When was the last time you took a close look at your telephone bill?

You need to carefully review your phone bill each month because scammers have been known to add on charges.  In fact, tens of thousands of people have been billed out of millions of dollars.

"You'd have to be a genius to figure out all the taxes and numbers on here," said Clark Beermann about the phone bill for his business.
Lots of phone lines and a bill with multiple pages, "This one particular item kept showing up.  This is where I found the charge they were sticking on my bill," he said.
It was buried below taxes and fees.  And for most people who got targeted in this scam it ranged from around $13-$40.

The number of victims?

US Postal Inspector, Andrew Wang, said, "In this case there were tens of thousands of cramming victims and losses totaled over $22 million."
Two scam artists, working through a middle man, told phone companies that various consumers and businesses had agreed to pay a monthly fee for their service, an internet directory.  The truth was they were working on a false billing scheme.  In other words, the con artists were billing people who never ordered their service.  It's called telephone cramming.

The victims, most of whom never noticed the charge, included thousands of business owners like Clark Beerman who eventually complained to their phone company.  Those complaints ended up in the hands of US Postal Inspectors who busted the operation.

"It might have been going on for a year; it could have gone on forever," said Wang.
The two brothers who pulled the scam were both convicted of mail fraud.  One was sentenced to 30 months in prison while the other got a 20 month sentence.
The victims received only pennies back for every dollar they lost.
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