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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, March 20, 2007
C ONTACT: Leah Mohr, South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, (605) 773-3201
Commissioners levy $150,000 fine against California crammer
PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioners took action today against a California company doing business as eChurch Network, imposing a $150,000 fine for cramming.
The PUC learned last year of several South Dakota small businesses that received invoices from eChurch Network listing a $50 charge for a one-minute long distance telephone call. Representatives from the businesses claimed to not have placed the calls. Several businesses directly contacted the PUC with their concern about improper billing. Others were discovered after the PUC issued a press release in September 2006 warning business owners about the possible cramming situation.
"The evidence I evaluated in this case showed me this company is systematically working to defraud South Dakota consumers," said PUC Chairman Dusty Johnson. "It appears the eChurch strategy is to charge small businesses an amount that may be undetected and paid for months or even years by these unsuspecting customers. This is one of the worst cases of cramming this commission has seen," he stated.
"A fine of $150,000 is a pretty heavy penalty and hopefully this will deter others from attempting to steal from consumers," said PUC Vice Chairman Gary Hanson. "The company showed blatant disregard for South Dakota consumers. We commissioners showed our intolerance for the deceitful practices of eChurch Network by issuing the fine. The action by the commission is all about consumer protection," Hanson explained.
"Cramming can sometimes be difficult to detect, especially when the charges are small amounts," said PUC Commissioner Steve Kolbeck. "I urge consumers to be diligent when reviewing their telephone bills each month. When a person is accustomed to seeing normal charges they know they authorized, illegitimate charges jump off the page at them. That's when they should contact the PUC for assistance," he advised.
Cramming is a practice where customers are billed for unexpected and unauthorized charges on their telephone bills. Incidents of cramming should be reported to the PUC by e-mail at PUCConsumerInfo@state.sd.us, phone at 1-800-332-1782 or U.S. mail at PUC, 500 E. Capitol Ave., Pierre, SD 57501-5070.
MEDIA NOTE: Review PUC docket TC06-190 for more information. To access the docket, go to www.puc.sd.gov and select "Commission Actions," then "Commission Dockets" and "2006 Telecommunications Dockets."