BBB investigation: Prison Call Solutions locks up consumers’ money

Consumers allege Austin company takes money for prison call services it can’t provide

jail 150x150 BBB investigation: Prison Call Solutions locks up consumers’ moneyAustin, Texas-based Prison Call Solutions (PCS) advertises its service as a guaranteed way to save money for people who wish to talk to an inmate on the phone, but consumers report paying up front for services that don’t work.

Prison Call Solutions’ website prisoncallsolutions.com states the price of calls made from prison will be reduced by approximately 80 percent by using its service. The service sets up a relay system allowing prisoners to make calls using a local phone number, which PCS says will avoid long distance charges.

Consumers told Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin that they paid PCS in advance for services they were not able to use, either because the local number they received didn’t work, or because the prison facility would not contract with the company.

As of March 18, 2014, BBB has received 105 complaints against Prison Call Solutions in the last three years. The company did not respond to 95 complaints and failed to resolve six complaints.

BBB files show a pattern of disputes from consumers stating they purchased prepaid call plans that did not work. Consumers also state the company will not return calls requesting refunds. The company did not respond to BBB attempts to address the pattern of complaints.

The business has also failed to respond to a BBB Advertising Review asking it to substantiate savings and guarantee claims made on its website.

Kim Richardson of Beaumont, Texas paid upfront for service with Prison Call Solutions, but the company was not able to supply her with a usable number for the prison in Five Points, New York.

“I was supposed to get a local phone number,” Richardson said. “Prison Call Solutions said there was no number available there. They said they would send a refund, but they never did. I tried calling, but couldn’t get anyone to help me.”

Karen Orofino of La Salle, Michigan, paid Prison Call Solutions a total of more than $60 for a local number that would allow her to talk affordably with a friend who was incarcerated in the Ottowa County Jail in Ohio. The price included a $20 fee to expedite activation of the number. She said the numbers they gave her never worked and she was unable to get a refund.

“You pay to get the number. When the prisoner tries to call, the number is no good,” Orofino said. “You call the company and tell them you can’t get through and they give you another number. That number doesn’t work either. They were supposed to refund me the $20 extra, but they never did. I tried for several months to get a refund for the original amount.”

For those who need a service to contact someone in prison, BBB offers the following advice:

  • Contact the facility first. Different facilities will contract with different communications services. Call to ensure the company you are considering will work with the facility in question.
  • Start with trust. View the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org/central-texasfor background information and complaint statistics.
  • Read the fine print. Before you pay for anything, make sure you understand the company’s refund policy and check the company’s complaint details at bbb.org/central-texas to see if it follows its stated policy.
  • Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, charges made on a credit card can be disputed up to 60 days after the purchase.
  • Get it in writing. Make sure any guarantees or discounts and their limitations are spelled out in a written contract. Do not accept a verbal promise from a sales representative.

To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org.

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About Charles Wood

Charles Wood is an investigator with the Austin Better Business Bureau. He joined BBB after more than 22 years as a newspaper journalist.