The joke is on cellphone users

"We do what we can to prevent this upfront," Ken Muche, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, said of Fitzgerald's situation. "But you can't always predict which companies won't play by the rules."

He and representatives of other wireless companies said they work with customers who may have been victimized by scammers, typically refunding any contested fees.

"Over time, we learn how customers are being treated" by specific service providers, Muche said. "People who don't treat their customers well -- we end our relationship with them."

So does AT&T. Lauren Garner, a spokeswoman for the company, said AT&T was severing ties with Jokemobi after receiving complaints from customers.

"They're under investigation and will be shut down by us," she said.

That's commendable. But there needs to be much greater accountability in this equation. If nothing else, the bar needs to be higher for service providers to make their way onto people's cellphone bills.

It should also be routine for telecom companies to notify customers of any new charges on their bills, much as credit-card companies monitor customers' accounts for unusual activity. You shouldn't have to root around on each statement for any new fees.

"The cellphone carriers, by billing these charges without any proof of legitimacy, seem to be accomplices in the thievery," Fitzgerald said. "Is there no responsibility of the carriers to protect their customers from these pickpockets?"

Not yet.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

Featured Stories

CTnow is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on ctnow.com articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.

CONSUMER COLUMNISTS

Kevin Hunt - The Electronic Jungle

Kevin Hunt: Belkin's WeMo Crock-Pot, the smart slow cooker - December 1, 2014 - I will not defend a Wi-Fi-connected can opener, doorbell or toaster, but I will defend almost everything about Belkin's Crock-Pot Smart...

Gail MarksJarvis

Self-employers have options to save for retirement and reduce taxes - May 1, 2015 - If you have a small business and are still stinging from the income taxes you paid Uncle Sam, you can take a simple step now that will get...

David Lazarus

Bank's offer of 'free' insurance is dubious way to appreciate customers - April 24, 2015 - Sally Hwang recently spotted a payment of $8.10 on her checking account statement for accidental death and dismemberment insurance....

Korky Vann

Get Ready To Brake For Tag Sales - April 30, 2015 - If you brake for tag sales, you'll be doing a lot of stop-and-go driving this weekend.