‘Capitol Connection’ Spoofing and Cramming

July 28, 2011

At the start of the 2011 legislative session I proposed a bill that would help every Connecticut resident avoid the dangers and inconveniences related to what’s known as ‘spoofing’ and ‘cramming.’

‘Spoofing,’ is the practice of causing an individual’s or family’s private telephone network to display a number on their caller identification (caller ID) which is not that of the actual originating phone number. This deceptive practice is commonly used to con people for money. With the increases and reliance on newer technology, spoofing has become more of a problem for so many families and businesses throughout Connecticut and the country.

To help protect and provide a peace of mind for Connecticut residents, I proposed Senate Bill 98. The bill, which is now Public Act No. 11-221, was signed into law on July 13th and makes spoofing an illegal and punishable action here in Connecticut. As passed, telemarketers will no longer be able to solicit individuals and businesses using illegitimate or fake company names.

In 2010, Congress also passed a law that addresses the issue of spoofing. The legislation, which is called the ‘Truth in Caller ID Act’ or the ‘CID Act,’ makes it unlawful for anyone in connection with a telecommunications service or certain voice services to cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. Connecticut’s new Public Act will strengthen this federal legislation and ensure that all our state’s consumers are fully protected.

The other proposal I sought dealt with ‘cramming.’ When you open your monthly phone bills, many of you may notice mysterious charges and fees stuck, or crammed, into the bill. Often times these fees – web design services, $10 per month voicemail, 1-800 lines, or other dedicated phone lines – are being placed into your telephone bill by a third-party without explanation, knowledge or consent.

Just days before the Public Act concerning spoofing was signed into law, the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation released findings from a yearlong investigation into the nationwide effects of cramming. The most alarming part of these findings is that on a yearly basis, telephone companies impose nearly 300 million third-party charges on their customers’ bills, adding up to $2 billion in charges every year – and to more than $10 billion in the past ten years. Other facts from the investigation note that most third party charges on your bills are unauthorized; telephone companies profit; many third-party vendors are illegitimate companies; and that customers affected by cramming have reported negative experiences when attempting to stop these fees.

Although there are currently federal laws in place –‘Truth in Billing’ rules – people, businesses and government agencies across the country continue to be targeted with these multi-billion dollar phone billing scams. I will continue in my effort to ensure that state laws are strengthened in order to halt cramming. Unfortunately, the legislation I proposed during the General Assembly’s 2011 legislative session did not ultimately pass, but my goal is to see it signed into law going forward so that no Connecticut resident is subjected to these scams and the fees associated with them.

As each of you at home answer your telephones and read over your monthly bills, I encourage you to be cautious and to report any incidents of phone number misuse, or any mysterious charges you may come across. If you do encounter a problem, I suggest you first contact your phone carrier, and if the problems persist to then contact the state Department of Consumer Protection.