Ridiculous Telephone Charges: Do Not Call Collect!

I work in the telecommunications field, so I have ridiculous communications bills - 3 POTS (plain old telephone service) lines at home, high speed internet, 5 cells...okay, the cells are more about the kids than the work, but still. The point is, I know my phone bills are outrageous, and I seldom really look at them very closely.

This month something odd caught my eye on my home bill - "Third Party Provider" was listed in the front page summary.

It took a few minutes, but not too long, to figure out exactly how the charge had occurred. My loved one's vehicle broke down on the way home from a holiday visit on January 3rd, and he called me, "collect", from the nearest pay phone.

For those who don't know, a "collect" call means the caller is reversing the charges. First, you dial 0 plus the number you are calling (instead of dialing 1 plus the number). Then either an operator, or more likely an automated attendant, will ask you to state your name. The person you are calling hears a message from the operator, or again, more likely from a recording that says "You have a collect call from So-in-So. Will you accept the charges?"

When you hear and recognize So-in-So's name, you say "Yes," and the operator or machine connects you to your caller.

When I heard my loved one's name, I accepted the charges, and asked, "What's wrong?" He explained the problem, told me his location, and I assured him someone would pick him up within thirty minutes.

The charges, with tax, turned out to be $27.27, for a 3 minute phone call.

I'm outraged. I'm beside myself. Who uses a pay phone these days? Who makes a collect call? Only those in an EMERGENCY or BROKE or BOTH make a collect call from a pay phone. But "third party providers" control most pay phones these days, and they prey on those who can least afford their astronomical charges. [or as goldentoad pointed out in the comments, someone who is in JAIL. Trust me, trust yourself, you KNOW those folks can't pay ya back!]

What my loved one did not realize (nor did I, until later, and nor did the Operator inform either of us) was that he was still in a local calling zone. While he's feeling the financial pinch as much as the rest of us, he had enough change in his pocket for the local call. But he didn't know, so he called "collect," just like I would if I broke down not far from his house - where I get notoriously bad cell phone coverage.

So what do you do in an emergency, when a collect call from a pay phone seems like your only option?

My home telephone company advised me that I (or my loved one) could ask the operator to have the charges re-directed to my own (or his) home number. If you are smart, however, you have restricted this ability with your home service providers - so unauthorized callers can't charge calls to you! You can set it up with your phone company so that someone at your home number has to accept a phone call from you and inform the operator that you are authorized to redirect the billing. According to my company's representative, the call will then be charged at my normal long distance rates.

Your long distance provider also will more than likely provide you with a long distance calling card to avoid the call home for authorization. The calling card option involves calling a toll-free number, entering your calling card number, and then entering the number you want to dial. Toll free calls are usually free from a pay phone. I used to have a calling card, but I have no idea if it is still active.

Similarly, you can purchase pre-paid long distance calling cards and keep them handy for emergencies.

The most obvious solution solution is a cell phone, but these days, with all of us cutting back on expenses where we can, some folks realize they don't usually NEED a cell phone! Or, like my loved one, they don't need five phones--one for each family member--so occasionally someone hits the road without the shared cell phone. Like we used to do, before we had cell phones. And I'm not THAT old! Besides, what if your cell can't get a signal? It happens all the time, right? Especially in those crime-dramas on TV when a serial killer is about to murder you...but I digress.

If you are stuck in an emergency, try asking for help in a store or other public place. You might even find a willing stranger to lend a cell phone. Here's what you can say:

"My car broke down [or whatever emergency you are experiencing], and I'm wondering if I can use your phone. I know there's a pay phone in the parking lot, but I just read this article on the Internet about someone who got charged $27.27 for a three-minute, local call, and I'm afraid of being scammed by the pay phone provider."

I bet you'll get some empathy, and some dial tone.

Please, for Pete's sake, don't make a collect call from a pay phone! Not without trying something else first!

Don't get me wrong, I don't blame my loved one. He certainly had no idea - still doesn't, unless he is reading this hub! I blame the companies now "servicing" pay phones. We all know that collect calls are more expensive, if we even remember what a collect call is. But who knew how much more expensive a collect call could be? In this day of unlimited text and data, who would have guessed that a 3 minute local emergency call would cost $27.27? That's $9.09 a minute!

My sister told me about a recent experience she had at a pay phone. Signs in the phone booth informed her she could call Mexico for $1 a minute for the first 4 minutes. But when she tried to place a local call to her supervisor to explain a work problem, she was prompted to deposit over $7 to start the call. Who carries $7 in coins for the pay phone? I can't imagine what that call to Mexico costs in the 5th minute!

We all know that most of our cell phone plans and even most of our home phone plans have awesome long distance bundles available - on cell phones, there is usually no extra charge for long distance. So why, why, why, are we tolerating these ridiculous charges from companies preying on the poor and the stranded? How can charging ridiculous prices to those least able to pay be good for our economy?

The charge on my phone bill is from ZPDI. The company was easy to find with a google search - www.zpdi.com. Their FAQ has two questions - "What is ZPDI?" and "How do I contact customer service?" In fact, the enitre web site provides extremely minimal information. For once I'm not worried about the web traffic I'm giving by linking to a company I'm bitchin' about.

The answer to the first question is, "ZPDI is a billing clearinghouse that processes charges on behalf of operator service providers and long distance carriers that provide service for hotels, motels, hospitals, payphones, universities, and correctional facilities."

Which reminds me, be very careful about making calls from hotel rooms, too! But that might be another hub...

The second answer includes a link to a billing inquiry form. Judging from the questions on the form, they obviously expect to be contacted in the case of a complaint. I submitted my information about the call I was questioning and my billing phone company. I probably should have counted to 10 or something first, because I know your chances are better with "customer service" when you are polite. But I was pissed, and after the "Dates of Charge(s) in Question" field, I let them know how unethical I thought their charges were in the "Inquiry" field.

Again, I remind you, my loved one could have contacted me with a LOCAL call! Free from any regular land-line servie! Free from most cell phones! According to Wikipedia, "In the United States, the coin rate for a local direct-dialed station-to-station call from a payphone has been 62ยข in most areas since mid-2001, for an unlimited number of minutes." And ZPDI charged me $27.27 for my loved one's emergency situation call.

I'll let you know if ZPDI refunds my money, but don't hold your breath for an update on this hub!

Copyright Dineane Whitaker 2009 - Please do not copy and paste this article, but feel free to post a link using this url: http://hubpages.com/_31lehtoyo5omh/hub/Ridiculous-Telephone-Charges-Do-Not-Call-Collect

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Comments 9 comments

Miss-Taken profile image

Miss-Taken 7 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

Unbelievable! Good for you for letting them have it! That's ridiculous. I know here in Nova Scotia, Canada it's like $2.50 a minute for a long distance call from a payphone and like you said, who carries around that much change?

I certainly hope they at least acknowledge your complaint but a refund would be more appropriate.


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

I think I'll buy a phone card and keep in my purse for just-in-case!


dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina Author

Miss-Taken, yes, $2.50 is a lot of change, but at least it's more in line for what I'd expect a long distance call to cost at a payphone!

Yep, good idea to get a phone card. Remember, Mama, we used to get them for the Huband cousins for Christmas now and then, but I haven't had or used one in ages. You better keep an eye on the expiration dates too - I guarantee they won't last forever!


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

anytime I have to make a collect call, it means one thing, I'm in jail, and I would rather sit there than hear about it, or answer a million other questions.


dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina Author

Oh my GT - I should add that one to my hub - I *have* had the "I'm in jail" call.....can't remember how much that one cost me but I'm sure it was a bundle!


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

yeah, I wouldn't want to hear about that either when I'm in there.


dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina Author

the cost, you mean, GT? I don't want to hear about it when you are there either :-)


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

yeah, the last thing you want to hear when you're in there, is "you know how much this call is costing me?"

Talk about no sympathy.


Alan Segal 6 years ago

What is worse, is that you are not informed beforehand of how much they are going to charge.

Maybe the sound of $35.00 per 3 minutes would prompt some to search their car for 30 seconds to find change

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