Both Verizon and Sprint allowed unauthorized fees to appear on the bills of some customers. Now the Federal Communications Commission says it's time to give that money back. If you're one of the affected, time is running out. You have until Dec. 31 2015 to submit your claim.
In a practice known as "cramming," cell phone providers charge customers for third-party services they never agreed to, such as premium texting. The fees, usually about $10, recur every month, with the cell phone provider pocketing a percentage of the money.
State governments and federal agencies have been cracking down on cramming in recent years, with the FCC bringing complaints against carriers. Verizon and Sprint settled their cases with the FCC on May 12, agreeing to pay a total of $158 million, with much of that money going back to customers who paid the price for cramming. If you were one of the few, the unlucky few, the band of bothered, there is now a way to find financial redress and, perhaps, a measure of peace.
Are You Eligible?
The details are as follows: Under the settlement with the FCC, Verizon Wireless will pay $90 million and Sprint will put up $68 million. AT&T and T-Mobile settled similar cases with the FCC last year, paying out $105 million and $90 million, respectively.
In order to see if you are eligible for a refund, you'll have to check over your past bills. For Verizon customers, you can apply for a refund if you were a victim of cramming between July 1, 2010 and January 31, 2014. (The program stopped after that date.) Likewise, Sprint customers should start hunting for charges starting on July 1, 2010, with the program also ending in January 2014.
To check your old bills, log in to the Verizon or Sprint websites and look up your past balances as you usually would at the end of the month. If you don't know how to do this, visit the companies' websites or stores, or call a customer service representative.
Verizon customers can also request a billing summary to see if they were charged for Premium SMS during the time period.
How to Claim a Verizon Refund
To apply for a refund with Verizon, first visit the company's Wireless Premium SMS Refund Program website. From there, you can submit a claim online, or print one out and send it via snail mail. The refund process will be open between July 1 and Dec. 31.
You'll need to have your phone number, your e-mail address, and the date and amount of each premium SMS charge received. It'd be helpful if you can provide your billing account number, but Verizon lets you submit a claim form without it.
You should receive your refund within 90 days, unless you are a former Verizon customer (at the time the refund is issued) with less than $3 in refund claims. Those people will not receive refunds at all.
How to Claim a Sprint Refund
Visit the Sprint Government Restitution site and follow the instructions. You will be able to file a claim via the website with Kurtzman Carson Consultants (a third party that Sprint has hired to manage the refund process) or mail in a paper application. Sprint will only accept submissions until December 31.
When filling out the claim forms, make sure to have your phone and account numbers handy. You'll also need a list of unauthorized charges, their dates and amounts.
Sprint users may also have to wait quite a bit longer than their Verizon counterparts to receive their refunds. The company advises that "refunds are expected to be disbursed prior to May 1, 2016." Existing customers will get the refund as a credit to their monthly bills or prepaid accounts, while former Sprint subscribers will get a check or "digital disbursement" via digital payment merchant Clear Xchange. You can select your preferred method while filing the claim.