Monday, October 1, 2007

In which we get slammed

"Slamming" is the illegal practice of changing a person's communications provider without permission, and it can affect customer's local or long distance service. Source: (AT&T). The practice was much more prevalent when long distance was first deregulated but still occurs with alarming frequency today.

We opened a new office in a remote location a year or two ago and set up local and long distance phone service with Qwest. Earlier this year we started noticing charges showing up from long distance carriers that we did not authorize. We went back and forth with the bogus companies who offered small refunds. When advised that we did not want or ask for their services they used intimidating language threatening that we would never be able to use their long distance service again. Duh! Hello! We never wanted their service in the first place. Why would we care?

We resolved this by calling Qwest and having them put a freeze on our account, something we should have done when we first set it up. Telephone service cannot legally be switched from an existing preferred telephone company to a new company unless the new company verifies the switch using one of the following methods: 1) Uses an independent third party to verify an oral authorization to switch. 2) Provides and obtains a signature on a letter that indicates, in writing, that you want to switch preferred telephone companies. 3) Provides a toll-free number that can be called to confirm the order to switch preferred telephone companies. Source (FCC).

So if we desire to file a complaint with the FCC (which we probably won't because it's such a small amount), the bogus carriers must prove that they did not slam us or be forced to pay us a fine equal to 50% of the amounts in the complaint. It is a common slamming practice to send a small ‘refund’ check of a few dollars. When cashed, it authorizes the sender to switch telephone companies. If we cashed such a check then it is our mistake that caused this problem.

Sometimes, sleazy phone companies will trick you into switching carriers by disguising the authorization in a telephone survey. If the person answering the telephone says “yes” to any of the surveyor’s questions, the answers may be taped and used later as verification of authorization to switch preferred telephone companies. Also, someone may have called and offered a free trial offer. The trial is free for 30 days and after that it starts billing every month on your bill.

In our case, the problem was exacerbated by centralized billing and distributed service. The people who pay the bills don't use the same phone service. So somebody at the remote location could have been subject to one of those surveys or a clerk in accounting could have deposited a bogus check without bothering to read the accompanying letter authorizing the switch. It just goes to show you that user education is needed but not always appreciated until the lack of it becomes apparent.

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