Local News

Customers, AG Hope to Hang Up on Phone Slammers

Posted November 25, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— The holiday season is here. It's a time of the year when a lot of people make long distance phone calls. It's also the season for phone slamming, a tricky and sometimes costly scheme designed to get you to switch long distance companies.

You can get "slammed" anywhere: On your home phone, your business phone and even your cell phone. It may have happened to you, and unless you really read your bill, you may not even know it. The good news is, if you know what you're doing, you can slam the slammers.

These days at the North Carolina Utilities Commission, they're getting about five calls a day. People are complaining about phone slamming. The files are full of angry consumers whose long distance service was switched without their knowledge or consent.

It's a confusing consumer controversy. Some people can't even find the evidence on their bills. But, there is a way to protect yourself.

Some long distance companies will use almost any trick in the phone book to make the switch. Many use "cold calls." A phone solicitor will ask you about your current service. Often before the end of the call, you've been slammed. North Carolina's Attorney General, Mike Easley, is working on new regulations which could help hang up on the slammers.

There have 476 complaints so far this year in North Carolina. The worst violator was a company called Windstar Gateway. They had boxes out in stores to win a free trip to Hawaii. Everyone who signed up was slammed. Here's a number that will help. It's BellSouth's slamming hotline. By calling1-800-596-3319the operators can help you get your money back.

BellSouth estimates half of its customers have been victimized at least once. The FCC ranks telephone slamming as the second largest communications problem in North Carolina.

This problem seems to be growing. In 1996, the FCC received 12,000 formal complaints against companies accused of slamming. That's 11,000 more complaints than in 1991.

Keep in mind, those numbers don't include the thousands of complaints that never make it past local service providers.