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Slamming: Switching Your Long Distance Phone Company Without Your Permission
A Baltimore woman complained when her long distance company was changed without her knowledge. Apparently, her daughter, who lived in another household, had authorized the switch - just by completing a Hawaiian vacation contest entry form that asked for a home telephone number.
A sudden, unauthorized switch of your long distance phone service to another provider is known as "slamming."
Long distance carriers are required by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to get authorization from consumers before switching their service. But that authorization may be written or oral, and clever marketers have found creative ways to get consumers to authorize switches without realizing it.
Some "Slamming" Methods
Contest, drawing and sweepstakes forms. Read the fine print carefully before you submit entry forms. Be wary if the form says you're required to give your phone number and signature. Doing so may authorize a change in your long distance company.
Rebates and checks that come in the mail. Read the fine print, on the front and especially the back of the check, to find out what outcome will result from endorsing the check. If you can't make out the fine print because it's too small, unclear or unreadable, don't cash the check.
Telemarketing. A telemarketer from another long distance service may call to ask you to consider switching, promising bargains like a certain amount of free long distance service. Even though you may decline, or ask only for information, you may discover that the marketer has gone ahead and made the switch before getting your go-ahead.
How to Avoid Being Slammed
Call your local telephone company and ask them to put a "carrier freeze" on your account. The freeze prevents another carrier from making a change to your long distance (or local or regional toll) service provider without your permission.
Be cautious when speaking to telemarketers. If you're happy with your long-distance provider, state that you are not interesting in switching and hang up. Be cautious about verifying your name or any other information.
Read the small print before signing any form, especially on special offers and checks that come in the mail. Before giving out personal information about yourselfsuch as your home telephone number or information about your present carrierfind out how it will be used.
Check your telephone bill each month to make sure that the long distance carrier you selected is still handling your calls. Or, from your home telephone, you can call (700) 555-4141 toll-free for a computerized message that will identify your long distance provider.
If You Discover You've Been Slammed
Contact the company that "slammed" you and tell them that you did not authorize a switch to their company. The company is required to investigate your dispute. If it cannot provide proof that it obtained your authorization for the switch, you do not have to pay for the first 30 days of service.
Then, call your local carrier and let them know your long distance carrier was switched without your authorization. Tell them you want to be switched back to your authorized long distance provider, and that you should not be charged for the cost to switch you back.
Finally, call your authorized long distance provider and ask to be reinstated to the plan you had before the unauthorized switch took place.
Your Rights if You Have Been Slammed
If you discovered the slamming before you paid your phone bill, you do not have to pay any charges for service for the 30 days following the slam. You will have to pay for charges for service after 30 days, but only at the rate you would have paid your authorized carrier.
If you discovered the slamming after you had already paid your phone bill, the slamming company will have to pay your authorized company 150% of the charges it received from you. Your authorized company will then reimburse you 50% of the charges you paid to the slammer. For example, if you were charged $100 by the slamming company, that company will have to give your authorized company $150, and you will receive $50 as a reimbursement.
If you are not able to resolve the problem after contacting the carriers involved and your phone company, file a complaint with the Maryland Public Service Commission. Write to: Maryland Public Service Commission, Office of External Relations, 6 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202; or file a complaint on at its Web site: www.psc.state.md.us
Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372