Local woman’s phone service ‘slammed’

Investigations

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A Madisonville woman says her phone service was switched last month while she believed she was talking with her provider; but, it was actually another phone company.

The practice is called “slamming.”

The Federal Communications Commission initiated some protections just last year.

With “slamming,” or switching someone’s long-distance carrier without their knowledge, happens to people who have landline phones.

Many of these customers tend to be older.

We first reported the scam in the late 1990s, when the scam was new. but it’s still happening today.

Before she retired 30 years ago, Vergie worked with her hands as a seamstress. She asked that we not use her last name.

Today she enjoys reading her bible. At 89, a great-grandmother and widow, Vergie has been an AT&T customer for nearly 60 years. She has no internet at her home and still has a landline phone. Last month, she got a call believing it was from her carrier.

“They said they were AT&T, they were switching me to TeleCircuit, that I had been getting big bills and I would not be getting big bills from now on,” she said.

Vergie said the caller told her she would be switched to one of TeleCircuit’s 39.99 monthly offer. Believing it was an AT&T representative on the phone, she agreed to the deal.

“And he said they had me hooked up, that I was automatically on TeleCircuit,” she said. “I thought I was getting a bargain.”

However, when taxes and surcharges are added to TeleCircuit’s 39.99, the total is $53.51 cents, which is about 50 cents cheaper than Vergie’s $54 AT&T bill. However, TeleCircuit discounted the bill by an extra $5.

Nevertheless, when the TeleCircuit bill arrived, Vergie called AT&T.

“They said we’re sorry but we don’t do business that way. They do not call and switch anybody. That is not in their line of business, they don’t do business that way,” Vergie said.

President and CEO at Better Business Bureau of Greater East Tennessee, Tony Binkley, says most of these complaints go unanswered and that TeleCircuit has an “F” rating with the Bureau. A complaint filed in April — similar to Vergie’s — says “caller stated he was from AT&T, he was not.”

“Most of the complaints are billing issues, switching without their permission issues,” Binkley said.

WATE 6 On Your Side obtained a 20-page notice filed by the FCC against TeleCircuit Network Corporation in April 2018.

In its report, the Federal Communications Commission alleges the Georgia-based phone company “switched consumers from their preferred carrier to TeleCircuit and misled consumers into believing that telemarketing calls were from the consumers current carrier.”

We checked, the proposed action, a $5 million fine, has not yet been enforced by the FCC. Legal arguments are ongoing. However, the chairman issued this general warning about the practice.

“Slamming happens when a consumers telephone company is switched without authorization while cramming is when a consumer is billed for services that he or she didn’t want or ask for. it other words, without consumer’s knowledge or consent,” says Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman.

The FCC advises that if you think you have been switched:

  • Call the slamming company and tell it that you want the problem fixed, under FCC rules
  • Call your authorized carrier — inform it of the slam, request to be switched back with the same calling plan you had before the slam
  • Ask your local telephone company to place a “freeze” on your account to keep anyone other than you from changing your phone company selection

Vergie has contacted AT&T and has been switched back. She says to other people get a call from TeleCircuit – “Don’t talk to them.”

WATE 6 On Your Side tried reaching out to TeleCircuit for comment and were unable to get through.

As part of its effort to strengthen its fight against slamming and cramming, the FCC suggests that you examine your telephone bill thoroughly.

If you see a “new” telephone company name on your bill, call the number and ask for an explanation. Under new FCC rules, you can be switched back if you prefer.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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