Some companies, however, are avoiding the customer courtship process entirely. Instead of wooing the consumer's account, they kidnap it. They tell the local phone company that they have authorization to take over an account, when, in fact, the consumer has not consented to and has no knowledge of the switch. The phone industry has named this practice "slamming."
Some consumers discover that they have been slammed after they notice a sudden decline in the quality of their phone service. When they call their carrier to investigate, the company tells them that they are no longer a customer.
Other consumers are contacted by their original carrier in an attempt to win back their account. In most cases, a consumer will find out that they have been slammed only when they receive an outrageously high phone bill bearing an unfamiliar company name.
According to federal law, a caller's long distance service can't be changed without his or her consent. Consumers who have been slammed sometimes discover that they approved the switch without knowing it. A long distance company may hide an authorization form within a contest entry, or it may send a check that, if cashed, gives the company permission to claim the consumer's long distance account. In some cases, entry forms are printed in Spanish or Chinese, except for the disclaimer explaining the phone service switch, which is printed in English.
Some long distance providers don't bother with contest forms or checks; they simply tell the local phone company that a consumer wants to be switched. The firms that gain customers through deception don't need to compete with the other carriers on the basis of price or service. As a result, their customers pay high rates for long distance service that may be of substandard quality.
Don't let unscrupulous firms trick you into signing over your long distance account. Read the fine print before you put your name on any contest forms or endorse any checks that appear in your mailbox. If you are slammed, contact your local phone company right away. Tell them you should be switched back to your original carrier at no charge. They may be willing to adjust your phone bill to reflect the rates your original carrier would have charged.
Some local phone companies will "freeze" (block) your long distance account, so that it can not be switched to another carrier without a special authorization process, requiring your written consent, among other things.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued "slamming liability rules" for the protection of consumers. These rules apply to violations occurring on or after November 28, 2000. To contact the FCC directly regarding a slam, you may write to
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer Information Bureau
445 12th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20554
email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web site: www.fcc.gov, 1-888-CALLFCC (voice) or 1-888-TELLFCC (TTY).
Under this law, if you are slammed and do not pay the bill sent by the slamming company, you will not have to pay either the slammer or your chosen telephone company for service for up to 30 days after the slamming occurred. Beyond 30 days, you must pay service charges to your authorized telephone company at that company’s rates (and not at the slammer’s rates).
If you pay the bill before realizing you have been slammed, your authorized telephone company is entitled to receive 150% of the charges that you paid to the slammer. Your authorized company would then reimburse you 50% of the amount paid to the slammer out of that repayment. This means that if you paid $100 to the slammer, they would have to pay $150 to your own phone company, which in turn would reimburse $50 to you.
Always check your telephone bill carefully when you receive it to see whether it contains unauthorized charges. If you believe you have been slammed, the Better Business Bureau recommends that you take these steps:
File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in the area where the company is located, and if you are considering a switch in long distance carriers, check the company's record with the BBB before you switch.