The Federal Trade Commission's 900 Number Rule gives consumers protections when they call a 900 number (900 numbers usually charge fees for their services). It aims to make the consumer aware of certain things before making such a call:
- How much the call will cost
- What the consumer will get for his money
- What happens if the consumer has a billing dispute with the company
Are there Exceptions to the Rule?
If you have a pre-arranged contractual agreement with such a service, the 900 Number Rule will not apply to you. Usually under such arrangements, your calls to the service will not be protected by the Rule. Also, any calls charged to a credit card are excluded from the Rule.
How Should My Phone Bill Appear?
Procedures for resolving disputes are provided for in the 900 Number Rule. The first thing you should do is check your phone bill for any charges you deem out of the ordinary. Each 900 call that appears on your bill should include the date, time, and length of the call (for those services with per-minute rates). These charges should appear separately from other charges. For questions about pay-per-call charges, there should be listed a number that you can call. You cannot be disconnected by your phone company if you fail to pay a 900 number charge (but you may be blocked from making similar calls in the future).
How Can I Resolve a Billing Error or Dispute?
If, after reviewing your bill, you discover an error, first follow the instructions given on your statement. Typically, you will be told to call your phone company, the actual 900 number company, or even possibly an independent firm providing billing services for the company. Make your call within 60 days from the date of your statement. Under the Rule, the company must acknowledge your notice in writing (within 40 days). Within two billing cycles (no longer than 90 days), it must:
- Make corrections to your bill and notify you of it; or
- Investigate the situation (and correct the error or, if not, explain why it did not do so).
You cannot be charged for the investigation, and companies that do not comply can lose up to $50 of each disputed charge.
How Can I Avoid Such Problems?
You should keep informed of ways to avoid encountering 900 Number Problems:
- There is a difference between 900 numbers and 800 (or 888) numbers. You must pay for the charges for 900 numbers, while the company providing the services pays for 800 numbers.
- Research the company before calling. Before calling, make sure you understand how much the call will cost and the nature of the services you are calling.
- Be wary of "free" gifts. An ad that offers a "free" gift for calling may be making its money from a 900 number charge.
- Discuss 900 numbers with your children. Tell your children that they must get your permission before dialing a 900 number. If you wish, your phone company can block outgoing 900 number calls from your phone (for a reasonable fee).
Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced with these Issues?
A business lawyer would be able to inform you of your rights and responsibilities under the FTC's 900 Number Rule. A lawyer would also be able to help you if you find yourself in a dispute over 900 number charges on your billing statement.