To help consumers stay abreast of changes in the utility industry and to protect themselves from being over charged or scammed, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) would like to make residential consumers aware of issues as they arise. Following is a list of alerts and scams in the telephone industry.
To report a scam, contact email@example.com
Customers using AT&T prepaid phone cards should be aware that a call made from within Ohio to another telephone number within the state uses more of the minutes contained on the card than a call made to someone in another state.
When calling within Ohio, three minutes are deducted for each minute of talk time. For example, a 10-minute call from Cleveland to Dayton would subtract 30 minutes from the total value of a customer's card.
For more information, visit this online resource for in-state rates in other states and more terms affecting AT&T prepaid calling cards.
Consumers using cellular service should be aware that a list of calls recently dialed from their phone may be obtained through several website-based businesses. Reports indicate that a fee of approximately $100 may provide someone with a listing of outgoing calls from any cell phone. Some websites also offer to provide other personal information, including the non-published home telephone number based on an address provided by an individual.
While these services are apparently legal, consumers should be especially aware of their privacy and understand the potential for scams, including identity theft, to occur. Consumers also can report any concerns or complaints to their cellular company or enforcement agencies such as the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the Federal Communications Commission
Telephone customers should know their rights if they receive charges for 900 or 976 "pay per use" calls they do not recognize. Billing disputes involving these charges need to be made to the local telephone company within 60 days from the time the bill is issued. During an investigation, customers do not have to pay for these charges. Basic local and long-distance telephone service cannot be disconnected based on any past due 900 or 976 charges.
In addition, if customers wish to block anyone in their home from making 900 or 976 calls, they should inquire about services provided by their local telephone company. Typically this type of blocking service is free to customers who request it when they establish their telephone line. A one-time activation fee is sometimes required for those with existing telephone service.
The National Consumers League reports that telemarketing scams occurred more often and drained more money from customers' wallets in 2005 than in 2004. A study by the organization found that the number of incidents increased 39 percent and the average loss by consumers rose to $2,892 from $1,974. The most commonly reported scam involved prizes and sweepstakes, where a consumer was asked for payment to claim a prize that was never delivered. For more information on the report, visit www.nclnet.org.
Some customers have received warnings that if they do not add their cellular phone number to the national Do-Not-Call list, it will be sold to telemarketers or placed in a national wireless directory. These warnings are not accurate. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other sources, consumers should know that it is illegal for most telemarketers to place calls to your cellular phone.
Since most telemarketing calls to a cellular phone are illegal, adding a cellular phone number to the national Do-Not-Call list should be unnecessary. However, consumers may add their personal cellular phone numbers to this list. For more information on the Do-Not-Call list, click here.
A proposal has been made that would allow cellular phone customers the ability to be listed in the existing nationwide 4-1-1 system. The proposal would need to be approved by the FCC before going into effect. Cellular phone numbers would not be listed without customers' permission and they could remove their numbers at any time without cost. No printed or electronic directory would exist.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the largest percentage of Ohio's identity theft complaints in 2005 was the result of telephone or utilities fraud. Twenty-eight percent of identity thefts involved telephone or utilities fraud for a total of 1,993 complaints statewide.
Nationwide, telephone or utilities fraud was second only to credit card fraud as the most common type of reported identity theft. In addition, approximately 17 percent of companies committing fraud and identity theft used the telephone as the initial method to contact consumers.
One example of telephone fraud is the opening of an unauthorized account using stolen personal information. The opening of an account with a local telephone company can help a thief gain documentation that may be needed to open a bank or credit card account.
What is it? Callers dial telephone numbers beginning with area codes 809, 284, 876 (or another three-digit area code) and inadvertently and unknowingly make high-cost international calls.
How does it happen? Callers receive an email, voicemail or page encouraging them to call a number to hear about a prize or an important message. The three-digit area code used to dial the number actually dials outside of the country. Callers are unaware that they made an international call until they receive their telephone bill.
How to avoid the scam? Check unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
What is it? Call splashing occurs when a consumer uses a public telephone (i.e. payphone, hotel, airport telephone) and makes a long-distance call that is routed to a distant call center before being passed to the consumer's preferred long-distance carrier. The hand off may cause the consumer to be charged a higher long-distance rate for the call.
How does it happen? When the call is "handed off" from the call center to the long-distance carrier, the long distance company charges the customer for a more expensive call originating from the call center, not the customer's location.
How to avoid it? Consumer may avoid being "splashed" by refusing a call transfer when the customer does not understand all of the details. After using a public telephone for long-distance calls, always verify the origination and destination locations when the telephone bill is received. If either the calling point is incorrect and/or the billing rate is higher, call the long-distance company to express your concerns and request the correct billing rate.
Scams involving "Caller ID spoofing" have been reported in Ohio. Caller ID spoofing occurs when a scammer causes a different telephone number from its own to appear on a consumer's Caller ID display. This can be done by using special software that allows a caller to mask its true Caller ID information. When a caller's identity is spoofed, consumers may be inclined to answer the telephone call since it may appear to be from someone they know or a local telephone number. Similar to other scams, once the caller has the consumer on the line, the caller may try to obtain personal information, such as a social security number, by claiming to be the police, a government agency or a bank.
To help prevent falling victim to this scam, consumers should:
If consumers believe they have fallen victim to a Caller ID spoofing scam or that their telephone number is being spoofed, they should call the local law enforcement, the telephone company and the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
Telemarketers using Caller ID spoofing are in violation of the federal Do-Not-Call rules because they are not disclosing their telephone number to callers. Complaints against violations of the Do-Not-Call rules can be submitted to the Ohio Attorney General's Office or to the federal government.
What is it? A caller persuades a consumer to push *72, a code often used to activate Call Forwarding, followed by dialing a telephone number, sometimes leading to a long-distance operator. Once Call Forwarding is activated, all of the consumer's calls are transferred to that telephone number. The scam can be used to stick the victim with charges for such services as collect or third-party calls.
How does it happen? A caller may pose as, for example, a law enforcement agency to convince the victim to push *72 and the telephone number. Many consumers are not familiar with the *72 function and how it can cause their telephone number to be misused through this type of scam.
How to avoid it? Consumers receiving calls asking them to dial a telephone code such as *72 should beware. There are no legitimate reasons an unknown caller would need a consumer to use this function.
What is it? Consumers believe they are enrolling or confirming their enrollment on a state Do-Not-Call registry. Private information given to the caller by the consumers is later used for fraudulent activity.
How does it happen? Consumers receive a call to enroll or verify their enrollment on the state Do-Not-Call registry. To confirm his or her identity, the consumer agrees to give the caller information such as a Social Security number, bankcard or account numbers. The information is later used for making unauthorized purchases, stealing identity and money, etc.
How to avoid it? Don't be tricked into believing that Ohio has a state Do-Not-Call registry. Ohio uses the national registry to track residents who do not want to be called. Keep in mind that the officials from the federal Do-Not-Call registry will not call consumers to enroll or confirm enrollment on the list.
What is it? The local telephone company places an unauthorized freeze on an account, which prevents a customer from switching to another local or toll telephone provider.
How does it happen? Jamming occurs when the local telephone company places a freeze on an account without the customer's consent or knowledge. However, a customer can add a freeze to an account to prevent being switched to a new carrier without the customer's consent.
How to avoid it? The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel encourages customers to regularly call their local telephone company to find out if a freeze has been added to their account. Customers who determine that they have an unauthorized freeze on their accounts should request that it be removed.
For more information on telephone scams, visit the Federal Communications Commission's website at www.fcc.gov. In addition, by clicking here consumers can file complaints regarding such issues as junk faxes, Do-Not-Call violations and prerecorded telephone messages.
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