Toll-Free Telephone Number Scam

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 What Are Toll-Free Telephone Number Scams?

Toll-free telephone numbers are ubiquitous in businesses worldwide, enabling customers to contact companies without incurring phone charges. These numbers usually start with a specific three-digit code, such as 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, or 833. In some cases, unfortunately, scammers exploit these numbers to trick unsuspecting individuals into costly traps. Frequently, this is done by manipulating the “900 number rule,” which, contrary to the toll-free numbers, charges callers for services provided over the phone.

Scammers often mask their real phone numbers, making them appear as toll-free numbers. When an individual calls back, they unknowingly dial a 900 number instead, resulting in unexpected charges. Some scams even involve international numbers, which can result in higher calling rates and additional fees.

What Is a Pre-subscription Agreement?

To protect consumers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires a pre-subscription agreement before a customer can be charged for calling a 900 number. This agreement serves to provide transparent information about the cost of the call and the nature of the service provided.

In a pre-subscription agreement, the service provider must disclose:

  • The cost of the call per minute or the total cost;
  • The types of services provided;
  • Whether or not the program is available to minors;
  • Information about refunds or cancellation policies.

A verbal acknowledgment or a written agreement from the customer is mandatory for such an agreement to be valid.

What Is Prohibited?

According to the FTC, several actions are prohibited to protect consumers from 900 number scams. These include:

  • Masking a 900 number as a toll-free number;
  • Misrepresenting the cost or nature of services offered via a 900 number;
  • Charging consumers who have not knowingly agreed to use the service;
  • Using 900 numbers for unsolicited services, such as collection agencies or unsolicited promotions.

Masking a 900 Number as a Toll-Free Number

Prohibited Scenario: Let’s assume a company, XYZ Services, provides financial advice via a 900 number, charging callers per minute. However, they advertise their services using a toll-free number. When unsuspecting consumers call this toll-free number, they’re unknowingly redirected to the 900 number and charged for the call.

Misrepresenting the Cost or Nature of Services Offered via a 900 Number

Prohibited Scenario: Imagine a psychic hotline that uses a 900 number. They advertise their services as being $1 per minute. However, once consumers call, they realize the actual cost is $10 per minute. Furthermore, the services aren’t conducted by real psychics as advertised but by staff using scripted responses.

Charging Consumers Who Have Not Knowingly Agreed to Use the Service

Prohibited Scenario: An online gaming company offers “free” phone support via a 900 number. However, they do not clearly disclose that calling the support line incurs charges. When customers call the line for help, they’re charged without having given their explicit consent to such charges.

Using 900 Numbers for Unsolicited Services, Such as Collection Agencies or Unsolicited Promotions

Prohibited Scenario: ABC Collection Agency uses a 900 number to contact debtors. They do not disclose to the debtor that the call is being charged. Furthermore, they use the same 900 number to send out unsolicited promotional calls to potential customers. In both cases, the recipients of the call are unwittingly incurring charges.

In all these scenarios, the companies are acting in violation of FTC rules, which strictly prohibit such practices. The FTC’s regulations are designed to prevent these deceptive practices and protect consumers from unexpected and unfair charges.

The FTC’s regulations are designed to prevent deceptive practices and protect consumers from unexpected charges.

How Can I Avoid Such Scams?

To avoid falling victim to toll-free number scams, you can follow several guidelines:

  • Do not return calls to unknown toll-free numbers.
  • Avoid providing personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call and trust the company.
  • Be cautious if you’re asked to dial a 900 number. Always confirm the cost before making the call.
  • Consider using a blocking tool or service to prevent calls from certain numbers.

Do Not Return Calls to Unknown Toll-Free Numbers

Steps: Simply ignore calls from numbers you do not recognize, particularly if they are toll-free numbers. Scammers often use these to trick consumers into calling them back. If you receive a voicemail claiming to be from a trusted source, like a bank or a government agency, do not call back the provided number. Instead, look up the organization’s official contact number online and use that to return the call.

Why: This reduces the risk of unintentionally calling a scam number. Scammers often use tactics such as pretending to be from a trusted source to trick people into calling them back, so it’s best to verify any number before returning the call.

Avoid Providing Personal Information Over the Phone Unless You Initiated the Call and Trust the Company

Steps: Be cautious about giving out personal or financial information over the phone. If you receive an unsolicited call asking for this type of information, it’s best to hang up. If the caller claims to be from a company you trust, hang up and call the company back using their official contact number to verify the request.

Why: Scammers often pose as representatives of banks, government agencies, or other trusted organizations to trick people into giving them personal or financial information. You can protect yourself from this type of scam by only providing such information when you have initiated the call to a verified number.

Be Cautious If You’re Asked to Dial a 900 Number. Always Confirm the Cost Before Making the Call

Steps: If you’re asked to call a 900 number, take time to confirm the cost of the call first. You can usually do this by asking the operator, checking the company’s website, or doing a quick online search. Remember, if you decide to dial a 900 number, you will be billed for the call, even if it was unsolicited.

Why: 900 numbers are not toll-free and are often used for pay-per-call services. Without confirming the cost first, you could be faced with an unexpectedly high phone bill.

Consider Using a Blocking Tool or Service to Prevent Calls from Certain Numbers

Steps: Many phone carriers offer services that allow you to block specific numbers. There are also numerous third-party apps available that can block unwanted calls. Additionally, registering with the National Do Not Call Registry can reduce the number of unsolicited calls you receive.

Why: Using blocking tools or services can help protect you from unwanted calls, including potential scams. While they can’t block all unwanted calls, they can significantly reduce the number you receive, giving you greater peace of mind.

How Do I Stop Toll-Free Numbers From Calling?

If you are continuously receiving unwanted calls from toll-free numbers, you can take several steps to stop them:

  • Register your number with the National Do Not Call Registry. While this won’t stop all unwanted calls, it will significantly reduce them.
  • Report unwanted calls to the FTC.
  • Use call-blocking services provided by your phone carrier or install a third-party app to block unwanted calls.

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced With Toll-Free Telephone Number Scams?

If you’ve been a victim of a toll-free number scam or are facing unjust charges from a 900 number, you might need legal help. An experienced entertainment lawyer can assist you in navigating the legal aspects of the situation, including filing a complaint with the FTC, contesting the charges, and potentially pursuing a lawsuit against the service provider if they have violated FTC regulations.

Remember, the law is on your side and exists to protect you from deceptive practices. Therefore, don’t hesitate to contact a business lawyer through LegalMatch. LegalMatch’s extensive database of experienced lawyers ensures you will find the right professional to assist you in your case. With their guidance, you can take the necessary legal actions to address the issue and prevent future scams.


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