Payson resident Maureen Brotcke said the time had come to switch long-distance telephone companies.
But before she was through researching the rates, someone made the decision for her.
"We had been slammed, without even knowing it," she said.
"Slamming," or switching a consumer's telephone carrier without her knowledge or consent, is prohibited by Federal Communication Commission rules. The FCC enforces those rules by investigating individual complaints and slamming practices, and punishing those companies caught slamming.
Rules enforced by the FCC take the profit out of slamming by relieving customers of some of their long-distance telephone charges. But that's only if a complaint is filed, and the company is found guilty of slamming.
Some companies, however, have found ways around FCC rules. According to the FCC, one such practice involves sending unsolicited checks to telephone customers. To cash the checks, consumers must endorse them, which, according to the fine print, authorizes the company to switch the consumer's long-distance service.
"But that didn't even happen in this case," Brotcke said. "We didn't sign anything; we didn't ask to be switched. And, we didn't even know we were switched until we got the next month's bill."
Melissa Petkoff said she's been a slam victim several times. Over the years, she said, her long-distance service has been changed more often than the names of Payson's banks.
"MCI was the real culprit," she said. "They switched me about four months in a row."
Frustrated, Petkoff said she called US West and put a block on her long-distance provider.
"But, even that isn't a guarantee," she said. "They can still find ways around that. I've been slammed by companies I've never even heard of companies I never got a call from and I still got switched."
To protect yourself from slamming, the FCC recommends the following:
Never sign anything without reading it carefully.
If you receive a phone call about long-distance service and you are not interested in switching your service, be sure to tell the caller that you are not interested in receiving their service.
If someone sends you a letter or postcard "verifying" that you have switched services, notify them that you did not authorize the change, then call your local telephone company to confirm that you are still with your preferred carrier.
Read your phone bill carefully every month. If you see any unfamiliar names, or charges you cannot identify, call your local phone company and ask about those items.
What to do if you've been slammed
If you've had your long-distance service switched from one company to another, without your consent, the FCC recommends the following steps:
Call your local telephone company. Tell them that you did not order service from the new long-distance company, that you would like to be reconnected to your long-distance company, and that you want any "change charges" (the charge for switching companies) taken off your telephone bill.
Call the company that slammed you and let them know that you will only pay the charges your preferred carrier would have imposed. If this carrier will not drop any additional charges, contact the FCC.
Next, call the long-distance company you were switched from and report that you were switched without your permission. Ask to be reconnected. You should not be charged for this reconnection.
If you are unable to resolve your complaint with the company that switched your service, you can file a complaint with the FCC.
How to file a complaint with the FCC
The commission has undertaken a number of initiatives to make it quicker and easier for consumers to file slamming and other telephone-related fraud complaints.
Consumers are now able to file complaints electronically and over the phone, including calls placed to the FCC's toll-free number.
You may also continue to file written complaints at the FCC through postal mail. There is no special form to fill out to file a complaint with the FCC.
Simply send a letter, in your own words, to the address below. Your complaint letter should include:
Your name and address, the telephone number that was slammed, and a telephone number where you can be reached during the business day.
The names of your local and long-distance telephone companies and the long-distance company to which you were changed without your knowledge or permission.
The names and telephone numbers of the telephone company employees you spoke with in an effort to resolve your complaint and the dates you spoke with them.
Any other information that you feel would help the FCC to handle your complaint.
Copies of any documents you have received, such as a bill for changing to the unauthorized long-distance company, a contest entry blank, or a check.
Where to write
If you have a complaint you'd like the FCC to investigate, write to:
Federal Communications Commission
Common Carrier Bureau
Consumer Protection Branch
Mail Stop Code 1600A2
2025 M Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20554