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Avoid a telephone service scam

Updated May 2, 2011

Telemarketing fraud is a crime that affects millions of Americans every year. The following tips are offered to help you avoid a telephone service-related scam:

  • "Slamming" is when your long-distance telephone service is switched to another company without your permission. It can happen in many ways. You may receive a check in the mail, or enter a contest, not realizing that the fine print says that by signing the check or the entry form you have agreed to change your phone service. Or you may get a call offering you lower rates and, even if you haven't agreed, find out later that you've been switched. Look at your phone bill carefully. If a different long-distance company is listed, call your local phone company to find out how to get switched back with no fee and how to be re-billed at your original long-distance company's rates. If you get a call from someone claiming to be from your phone company, ask for their name and call-back phone number, then call the number on the back of your phone bill to verify that the person was legitimate.
  • Don't Be "Crammed." When monthly charges pop up on your telephone bill for optional services that you never authorized such as voice mail, paging, a personal 800 numbers or club membership, it's called "cramming." Like slamming, it can happen by filling out a contest entry form, failing to respond to a negative option sales pitch, or calling a 900 number. Or the crammer may simply pick your phone number out of the blue and place charges on your bill through your local telephone company, claiming that you agreed to purchase the services. Look at your bill closely every month. Charges for optional services should be itemized and show the name of the company providing them and its toll-free number. If you did not authorize the services, call that number and insist that they be canceled and the charges removed from your bill. If the "crammer" agrees, let your local telephone company know. If it refuses or you can't get through, notify your local carrier that you're disputing the charges. Be sure to pay your bill on time, subtracting the disputed amount and any taxes or fees associated with it. Your phone service should not be disconnected, but be aware that the "crammer" can refer the matter to a collection agency.
  • Toll fraud occurs when someone charges their long-distance calls to your number. If your calling card is stolen, or your account number is obtained by someone looking over your shoulder at a pay phone, calls to places all over the world can be charged to your calling card. Don't let people see you dialing your calling card number carefully and report a stolen card right away. In another type of toll fraud scam, you may receive a call from someone pretending to be from a phone company or a government agency claiming to be investigating a phone problem and asking you to accept charges for a call. No legitimate company or agency would ask you to do this. Hang up immediately.
  • Prepaid phone cards are sometimes worthless or more expensive to use than coins or collect calls. Beware of cards that do not come with clear information about the rates for the calls. Comparison shop for the best rates and find out if there are fees or surcharges that might apply. Choose companies that provide toll-free numbers for 24-hour customer service. If your card doesn't work, or the value of the card turns out to be less than what it said, or you have other problems, report them to your state or local consumer agency.
  • Claims of savings by using "dial-around" access numbers may be phoney. Those seven-digit numbers that you can dial to get around your regular long-distance phone company to save money could result in higher charges, not lower, if there are added fees or calling minimums. Get all of the details and compare both the rates and the terms before you use an access code to place your long-distance calls through another company.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of telemarketing fraud, like callers who ask for money first or who want to know your bank account, credit card or social security number. Scammers may even have your billing information before they call you. Often, they're trying to get you to say okay so they can claim you approved a charge.
  • If you have been scammed - or you think someone is trying to scam you - report it to the Federal Trade Commission at It's more helpful to the FTC if you can give the name or the phone number of the company that called you and the date they called. Complaints against telephone companies can also be reported to the California Public Utilities Commission at
  • Never give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you are the one that initiated the contact and are aware of the party you are dealing with. Be cautious of those posing as bank representatives, credit card company personnel, phone company operators and even governmental officials that are seeking this personal information from you. It never hurts to get their phone number to verify validity and call them back.

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