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Verizon Communications Inc. will pay $75,000 and has agreed to stop allowing unauthorized third-party charges on its customer bills. The agreement with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is believed to be the first between a telephone company and a regulator in the growing concern of “cramming” unauthorized charges from Internet providers on phone bills, Spitzer said. “I think it’s a good settlement, it definitely is,” said Janee Briesemeister of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. She said she hasn’t seen similar settlements, but some states, including Texas, have rules that require phone companies to remove the charges and provide bill records to the customer. The Federal Communications Commission has no such requirements. The FCC recommends consumers who feel they were crammed should request a phone bill adjustment. FCC rules require phone companies to offer a toll-free number for billing questions. If the phone company or the company that crammed refuses to remove the billing, a complaint can be made to state or federal officials. Spitzer said the settlement is the first time a telephone company has been required to monitor and correct the fraudulent billing practices by other companies on phone bills. The action follows complaints about the unauthorized charges by Internet providers, Web hosting and other services on Verizon phone bills. Spitzer said small businesses and residential customers in New York claimed Verizon did nothing to help them resolve the charges and instead told Verizon customers to solve the matter with those companies. The agreement applies only to New York customers. Verizon, however, already had policies to act promptly on behalf of its customers, said company spokesman Cliff Lee. Verizon eliminates the contested charge then contacts the company that put it on the phone bill, he said. Ken Dreifach, Spitzer’s Internet Bureau chief, said the office received 150 complaints, but the investigations led to many other failures to adhere to the policy. Under the agreement signed Wednesday, Verizon will pay $75,000 for the cost of the investigation and notify customers in their bills of a toll-free phone number for more information. The company also will provide credits to “crammed” customers, end contracts with companies that cram, and block future charges by cramming companies. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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