Court Slams Consumer Protections
On April 8, a federal court in Washington, D.C. ruled that a portion of the Federal Communications Commission’s “slamming” rule goes beyond the agency’s authority under law. “Slamming” is the changing of a customer’s
long-distance service without first getting the customer’s approval.
If the court’s order prevails, long distance companies will no longer have the obligation to verify authorization is from the actual account holder. In other words, a telemarketer working for a long distance company would only have to believe they’re talking to the right person, not necessarily actually be talking to the right person. It appears a guest, babysitter, or child answering the phone could give authorization for a change of service that would pass muster.
At this time we cannot be certain of the full impact of this ruling or whether the FCC will appeal the court’s decision.
Here’s how to protect yourself slamming:
* Ask your local telephone company for a freeze on your “primary interexchange carrier” (PIC). A PIC freeze prevents any changes to your long distance provider without written authorization.
* Sign up for your state’s “Do Not Call List”, if available, to limit telemarketing calls. A federal “Do Not Call List” should be available later this year. Be aware that all calls won’t stop because in most cases companies that have, or have recently had, a business relationship with you are allowed to continue telemarketing calls.
* Promotions, such as endorsing a check for cash, may also serve as your written permission to change long distance service. Carefully read anything you are asked to sign.
* Make sure that anyone who may answer your telephone– children, babysitters, guests– understand they are not authorized to change service and should exercise care when speaking with telemarketers. Under the court ruling, if a telemarketer obtains consent and verification (through a separate phone call asking for certain information such as birth date or social security number, or in writing) it does not matter whether the person giving the consent is the actual authorized account holder or has permission to change the service.
* Check your phone bill carefully every month for unexpected charges and/or a notice that your long distance carrier has changed.
* If you believe you have been slammed, call the carrier of your choice and ask them to put you back on your previous calling plan. You are not required to pay charges for the first 30 days; afterward you pay for calls based on your old rate, not the slammer’s price.
* Report suspected slams to the FCC and/or your state Public Utility Commission, depending on where you live. Find out where to file by checking www.fcc.gov/cgb. Consumers Union will track complaints to determine whether there has been an increase in slamming since the court’s ruling.