Watch out for telephone sales calls, bonus checks and prize offers.
Deregulation of the telephone industry has increased the number of telephone service providers who are competing to get your long distance and local toll telephone service. While most companies follow federal and state rules when obtaining your consent and changing your telephone service, others do not. Instead, these companies engage in a practice commonly known as "slamming."
What is SLAMMING?
Slamming is a term that describes a situation where your telephone service is switched from the telephone company you have selected to another company without your legitimate authorization.
How does SLAMMING occur?
Slamming can occur in several ways. Some companies use contests, prizes, surveys, bonus checks, or confusing telemarketing calls in an attempt to lure a consumer's consent to change the long distance and/or local toll/regional telephone service provider. Usually, the consumer does not realize that by responding to offers and answering telemarketer's questions, they may be authorizing a service change. The long distance/local toll telephone company (or telemarketer acting on its behalf) will then notify the local telephone company that the consumer has agreed to switch their long distance or local toll/regional service to another company.
How do I know I've been SLAMMED?
You may not be aware that you have been slammed until something looks different on your telephone bill. You may see a $5.00 carrier selection charge, a new billing company name, or higher than usual service charges. In addition, you may also receive a call from your previous carrier urging you to switch back.
Are there any laws to protect consumers against SLAMMING?
Yes. There are federal and New York State laws. Federal law requires truthful marketing, full disclosure and written or third-party verification of consent to switch. New York State law permits telephone companies to offer customers the option of "freezing" their telephone service provider and requires the new provider to notify consumers of the change in their telephone service provider. Also, state law prohibits the use of prize boxes to collect sweepstakes entries together with authorizations to change telephone service providers. State law also allows for companies found guilty of slamming to be fined $1,000 per slamming occurrence, per telephone number.
What can I do to protect myself from being SLAMMED?
- "Freeze" your telephone service provider.
Consumers should call their local phone company's business office and request a "freeze" of their long distance and local toll carriers where available. By "freezing" your service to your chosen company, your calls may not be carried on another company's network without your verbal or written authorization. HOWEVER, you need to be aware that a "freeze" will not always protect you from being slammed. A "freeze" will not prevent you from being slammed by another phone company which rents lines from your preferred carrier and resells that service to consumers.
- Confirm your current provider.
Make sure you know which company is currently providing your long distance or local toll telephone service. That company's name and phone number will appear on your phone bill. If the information is different from what you think it should be, alert your local phone company and your preferred regional toll/long distance carrier.
- Be cautious when receiving calls or filling out materials about changing your telephone service provider.
If contacted by a telemarketer regarding your telephone service, be sure you get the name of the company, the telephone number and the name of the person with whom you are speaking (along with a clear explanation of the purpose of the call). Also, be clear about which type of service for which you are authorizing a change. Frequently, telemarketers will not specify which type of service they are marketing, and then will switch your local toll/regional service along with your long distance service.
Read the small print on all solicitations before signing, since by signing them, you may be authorizing a change in your long distance or local toll/regional service without intending to do so.
If I get slammed, what should I do?
- Call your local telephone company and your long-distance carrier, AND
- Call the New York State Public Service Commission's toll-free HELPLINE at 1-800-342-3377 from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday, or;
- Email the New York State Public Service Commission at [email protected].
Other Sources of help
Attorney General's Office
New York State Department of Law
New York, NY 10271
Federal Communications Commission
Common Carrier Bureau
Consumer Protection Branch
Mail Stop 1600A2
Washington, DC 20554