Many organizations and businesses use 1-900 phone numbers for legitimate and useful services, but just about anyone can lease a national 900 phone line from a telephone company. And, so we find 1-900 phone numbers offering services from weather reports and wake-up calls to dial-a-joke and dial-a-porn to outright consumer scams. A charge goes on your telephone bill every time you make a 1-900 phone call, so think before you dial and don’t make a 1-900 phone call until you know how much the call will cost.
You may be charged a flat rate or by the length of the call. You should know that a third of the revenue from 1-900 phone calls goes to the telephone company, and the rest of the money to whomever is leasing the national 1-900 phone line. One scam operation offered hotline numbers that would get callers government jobs. But after making the $20 call, the caller would just be given some government office phone number taken straight out of the phone book.
Some 1-900 phone scams, such as those offering unsecured loans or credit cards for people who can’t get credit, may simply be ways to “run-up” your phone bill by first attracting your call, making you wait on hold and making you call again because they gave you the information or address too quickly for you to get the first time. Then there are scams in which people are supposed to call a 1-900 phone number for “a prize they’ve won.” The prize may be cheap or even free, but the call is not. Another problem is when children call 1-900 phone numbers. Parents are understandably outraged when they have to pay for their children’s unauthorized long distance calls, even if the children are warned to get their parents’ permission first.
The 1-900 phone number uproar has been so great that Congress passed the Telephone Disclosure and Dispute Resolution Act in 1992. This act required the Federal Trade Commission or FTC to adopt rules governing the pay-per-call services industry. The FTC’s 1-900 Number Rule which became effective on November 1, 1993, covers the advertising and operation of pay-per-call services, as well as billing and collection procedures for those services.
In Hawaii, Hawaiian Telcomm does not offer 1-900 services, but it handles the billing for some long distance telephone companies that offer the service. In responding to local complaints about 1-900 phone calls, especially from parents who have had their children making unauthorized calls to companies placing ads on TV, Hawaiian Telcomm offered a service to block the response calls. For instance, anyone who tries to make a call to a 1-900 phone number will hear a recording: “the number you have dialed cannot be processed from the line you are using.” This service was free, however, Hawaiian Telcomm reserved the right to charge for their services, if the block was changed too often or otherwise abused.
For inquiries on the FTC’s 1-900 Number Rule, you can write to the Division of Marketing Practices; Bureau of Consumer Protection; Federal Trade Commission; Washington, D.C. 20580 for a copy of the FTC’s “Complying With the 1-900 Number Rule” which was developed for businesses, but can also serve as a resource for consumers.
To learn about the FTC’s Rule applying to common carriers that assign telephone numbers for interstate pay-per-call services, write to: Federal Trade Commission; Common Carrier Bureau; Informal Complaints and Public Inquiries Branch; Washington D.C. 20554.