FBI seeks victims of 'cramming'

  • Article by: JAMES ELI SHIFFER and LORA PABST , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: December 16, 2010 - 11:21 PM

Officials want to hear from people who think Alternate Billing Corp. put suspect charges on their phone bills.

Two days after it raided a Forest Lake company called Alternate Billing Corp., the FBI announced that it wants to hear from people who think the company put unauthorized charges on their phone bills.

The practice is called cramming, and charges linked to Alternate Billing could carry many names, including MyIProducts, Safeguard My Credit, My411Connect and others. Other media outlets reported that the investigation is connected to the FBI's probe into an Indiana businessman, Tim Durham, whose investment firm collapsed earlier this year.

Alternate Billing representatives could not be reached this week by the Star Tribune. On its website, Alternate Billing says it helps online companies do business with "savvy online browsers" who are reluctant to purchase goods or services over the Internet with a credit card. Instead, Alternate Billing lets those companies put those charges on a customer's land-line phone bill.

Such transactions have earned the ire of many telephone customers, who complain that mysterious charges start showing up on their phone bills after filling out online surveys.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last month urging the agency to consider new rules that would prevent cramming. State law requires phone companies to remove unauthorized third-party charges and reimburse customers for up to six months of charges.

A former employee of Alternate Billing Corp. said he was taking up to 120 calls a day from people complaining about unwanted services that showed up on their phone bills. One charge, MyIProducts, was a messaging system that cost $12.95 to $14.95 a month, while Safeguard My Credit was supposed to prevent identity theft for $24.95 each month, he said.

The worker, who left the company about three years ago, said he has spoken to the FBI and the Minnesota Attorney General's office.

The FBI's news release encourages suspected victims to fill out an online form at www.startribune.com/a74; send an e-mail to telephone.victim@ic.fbi.gov or contact the Minnesota attorney general at 651-296-3353 or 1-800-657-3787.

james.shiffer@startribune.com lora.pabst@startribune.com

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