Here's a new Beltway term you should get used to hearing -- "bill shock." You've heard about cell phone users who suddenly find themselves burdened by a $5,000 or $10,000 bill for a single month, rung up by a hyper-texting child or excessive Internet downloads. This week, the Federal Communications Commission very sensibly recommended that wireless carriers be forced to send a mid-month text message warning to any customer who suddenly rings up enormous charges.
That's one small victory for consumers, but the giant leap is still to come.
Red Tape Chronicles readers know a thing or two about "bill shock." Crazy cable bills, outrageous hotel fees, unfair overdraft charges -- American consumers are under siege at historic levels. A nagging recession and high unemployment levels make examination of scams and unfair fees even more critical.
So after four years, 400 blog posts, 2 books, and 120,000 comments, Red Tape is taking to the road. Starting today, I'll be visiting a dozen cities on a 15-day fee-fighting journey. My dog Lucky will be with me, helping me sniff out scams from Washington D.C. to Seattle. He's already helped -- you should see the fees some hotels charge when you are traveling with a dog! (In Pittsburgh, $25 a night extra was standard, but the Shadyside Inn wanted to charge me $90! The Red Roof Inn I'm staying at is charging less than that for both of us).
Sniffing out scams
So ride along on this trip. Along the way, we'll meet a widow who paid $1,500 for the extra security of an extended warranty, only to lose everything when the firm went out of business. We'll talk with folks who fell for credit card settlement scams and the attorney general who just pushed through the boldest new law in the land to prevent such scams. We'll meet kids trying to pay for college, adults struggling to pay off oppressive loans, consumers who have fired their banks in favor of credit unions, and plenty of Americans who are just plain fed up with unfair treatment. We'll talk over coffee, tea, beer and dog walks. We'll visit local NBC stations, book stores, and neighborhoods. Many of the stops have been planned with the help of readers who have generously volunteered their time to help organize town hall-style meetings.
You can follow the day-to-day travels by signing up as a Facebook fan (click here)
This week, I'll be in Pittsburgh; Wheeling, W.Va.; Columbus, Ohio; Chicago, and Madison, Wis. If you are along the path, check the Facebook page for updates on where I'll be on any given day. And of course, we'll be bringing you several stories on msnbc.com through the Red Tape Chronicles.
Welcome to the Red Tape on the Road Hidden Fee Tour of America. Now, on to Pittsburgh!