Verizon and Sprint to pay $158M to settle mobile cramming investigations

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Verizon Wireless and Sprint will pay a combined $158 million to settle allegations of sticking customers with unauthorized charges, the Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday. (Tweet this)

The settlement marks the latest case in regulators' crackdown on the practice, known as "cramming." Federal and state agencies have hit the four largest U.S. wireless carriers with a total of $353 million in penalties.

"Consumers rightfully expect their monthly phone bills will reflect only those services that they've purchased," said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, in a statement. "Today's settlements put in place strong protections that will prevent consumers from being victimized by these kinds of practices in the future."

Verizon and Sprint's charges will amount to $90 million and $68 million, respectively, under the agreement. At least $120 million will go to reimbursing consumers hit with the charges.

Investigations revealed that Verizon and Sprint charged customers millions of dollars for premium third-party text message services. The companies typically levied fees of about $10 per month for the services, the FCC said.

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Verizon and Sprint both kept at least 30 percent of the unauthorized fees they billed. Many consumers complained that they had been denied refunds for the charges, the FCC said.

"For too long, consumers have been charged on their phone bills for things they did not buy," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement.

The agency will also implement consumer protections against cramming. Regulations will require that the wireless carriers no longer charge for third-party messaging services, as well as clearly identify any third-party fees on bills.

Last year, AT&T and T-Mobile agreed to pay $105 million and $90 million, respectively, to settle cramming investigations.