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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Blocking Slamming

It is worthy of remark that today’s business outrages against consumers in the service area would cause utter disbelief among the consumers of the 1950s or 1960s. I am referring in this case to the widespread practice of telephone slamming which is the unauthorized switching of a customer from one long distance seller to another.

This is not a rare situation. According to the General Accounting Office, one owner/operator of a company engaged in slamming, Daniel H. Fletcher slammed over 500,000 consumers between 1993 – 1996.

Consumers are slammed by deceptive marketing practices when you take the call of a slammer who tricks them into switching of their long distance carriers. Telemarketers can also falsify records to make it appear that a consumer orally agreed to the switch.

Sometimes slamming is achieved simply by obtaining the numbers of consumers from the phone book and turning them over to local exchange carriers for changing. The result of this intentional slamming is to increase the long distance rates people have to pay.

You would think that the federal and state law enforcement officials would be all over this racket. Indeed, there is a joint effort by the Federal Communications Commission, state regulatory agencies, and even some major carriers each of whom seem to rely on the other two to do the heavy lifting. The FCC takes a long time to identify companies which engage in slamming, though others are well known

in 1997 $2 million, ordered it to refund another $2 million to its customers and required suspension of operations for three years. While the FCC in all of 1997 only collected $1,245,000 in tines from slamming companies.

Actually, all three kinds of sellers of long distance companies have incentives to engage in slamming, either directly or indi­rectly. The big guys such as AT&T, Sprint or MCI have high fixed costs for network equipment and low costs for providing service to additional customers. The switching resellers are often paid com‑ missions to switch customers from one large carrier to another. While the switchless resellers, not owning any equipment and therefore not having any fixed costs, have less to lose than the other two types of sellers. This is why unscrupulous skimmers prefer to commit their fraud under the umbrella of such companies.

For once there is an effective initiative that consumers can take by themselves. It is known as a “PIC freeze.” Here is how to work it. You contact the local telephone exchange carrier and ask for a PIC freeze which, not surprisingly, freezes your choice of long distance companies from any change. To lift the freeze, you have to re-contact the local exchange carrier and answer certain identi­fying questions about your account.

In this way, the clever stammer, getting you on the phone and then slamming you is blocked. A PIC freeze is self-help while the federal and state regulatory cops on the stammer beat slowly wake up to their duties.