Consumer Publications List
Pay-Per-Call Scams Ring Up Big
Bills for Consumers
Baltimore consumer received a call on his beeper at 1 a.m. The return number was
a 976 extension. He immediately called back, not knowing that 976 extensions in
Maryland are pay-per- call numbers, much like 900-numbers. He reached a chat
line and quickly hung up.
Cumberland woman answered a newspaper ad offering an opportunity to work from
her home. She called the number listed in the ad, then called another number as
directed. She did not get a job as the result of her efforts, but she received
nearly $50 in phone charges. She had unknowingly called a pay-per-call number in
the Dominican Republic.
spate of pay-per-call scams has left unsuspecting consumers holding big phone
bills. The cases above are complaints actually received by the Consumer
Protection Division within the last few months. In addition, warnings have
surfaced on Internet Bulletin Boards and in other places of similar
bulletin board messages and e-mail, many consumers said they had received
answering machine messages urging them to call an 809-number to receive
information about a relative who was ill, claim a prize or straighten out an
urgent credit problem before their account was sent to a collection agency. In
each case, the information was false but the calls resulted in expensive phone
bills from the Caribbean number. Calls to this area code are billed at a higher
rate than a regular international call.
Recently, even more area codes have
been added for the Caribbean. At this time, there are 19 such area
United States, 900-number calls must contain a preamble at the beginning unless
the call has a flat rate of $2 or less. The preamble must clearly disclose the
cost of the call, give the information provider's name and describe the service.
To avoid being charged, you may hang up within three seconds after the signal or
tone indicating the end of the preamble. Local phone companies must offer
one-time free blocking of 900 services where technically possible.
Maryland, local pay-per-call numbers (976 and 915) must include the same
preamble and hang-up options as 900-numbers.
while consumers generally assume that calls to 800 numbers and the new 888 area
codes are toll-free, charges are occasionally connected to these numbers.
Sometimes consumers call an 800 or 888-number only to be directed to a different
number that is not toll-free. In addition, charges can sometimes be incurred for
calls to these otherwise toll-free numbers. Companies that provide audio
entertainment or information services are permitted to charge for calls to
toll-free numbers, but they must follow the FTC's 900-number rule and inform you
of the charge before you incur it.
are currently no such protections on pay-per-call numbers outside of the United
States, although Maryland and many other state attorneys general have asked the
Federal Trade Commission to toughen its regulations in this area to end the new
What You Can
you return a phone call, be sure you know where the area code is located. To
find out, check your phone book, your local telephone company, or, on the
lists area codes and their locations.
closely to what is being said at the beginning of a call to see if you are being
told that you will be billed.
find you have been the victim of a pay-per-call scam, call your local telephone
company immediately to find out how to dispute the charge. You can ask the phone
company to delete the charge, but they are not obligated to do so. You can also
file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division.
Owings Mills consumer signed a one-year cellular phone contract. About a week
before the contract expired, the consumer notified the company in writing that
he did not want to renew the contract. He was billed a $150 cancellation fee. It
turns out his contract contained an automatic renewal clause that said he had to
notify the company one month prior to the end of the contract if he did not want
companies now offer discounted cellular phones and beepers in return for
long-term service contracts. You might not have to pay for the phone, but in
return you must sign a one-year contract for service with the company that is
giving you the phone.
shop around for monthly service prices, you might find you are better off buying
the phone and signing with a company that offers a shorter contract or service
that costs less each month. In some cases, the monthly phone fee you'll pay with
your "free" phone is so high that you end up paying more than if you had bought
the phone outright.
cases, the lower the monthly fee, the longer the contract term. Before you sign
up for a year of service, be sure you will be getting the amount of service you
need. If you sign up for unlimited service but only make 3 calls a month, you
might end up paying more than you have to.
you sign a service contract, carefully read all of the terms. Be sure you
understand your cancellation rights and restrictions. With many cellular service
contracts, you owe the full amount of the contract even if you cancel before it
ends. Some allow you to cancel early but charge a fee for doing so.
Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection
DivisionConsumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free
200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
410-576-6300 / 1-888-743-0023 toll-free / TDD: 410-576-6372