How to avoid Collect Call Scam Charges
Protect your self
Beware of ILD Teleservices
Now I've been burned, it occurs to me that only people old enough to remember dial phones and party lines would be naïve to accept a collect call from a loved one away from home, but I could be wrong. I think even in the age of cell phones on every ear anyone might get caught in this costly trap....a border-line fraud I discovered the depth and lucrativeness of after investigating online. This rip-off phone service is making millions by preying on the unsuspecting and charging outrageous rates to unwilling customers. And it's all legal, just one more painful result of the unforeseen results of the deregulation of telecommunications. After this experience with unregulated phone service I'm wondering if the situation ever arises again, should I or could I refuse the charges when someone dear to me calls collect. After all the fact they are not calling from home or their cell implies some sort of unusual circumstance, likely an emergency. Yep. I think anyone, no matter what age, could get burned on this one.
Last fall while on a camping/ hunting trip my husband had to make an emergency call home to me...a collect call...from a pay phone at the only remotely nearby restaurant on the main highway through the Coastal range in Oregon. He wasn't feeling well, had not traveled to the campsite by himself, and needed me to come pick him up....about a 120 mile round trip. There was no cell phone coverage and he didn't have enough change in his pocket....and not feeling like going through any more hassle he called me collect. No problem, I was very concerned about him.
I thought I was just reversing charges to my home phone service through Verizon, and could be charged at my normal long distance rates. But when I got the bill I saw a $29.44 separate page charge from a company called ILD Teleservices, and it didn't turn up on my bill until 2 months later! $29.44 for a 6 minute call! At no time during the call was it stated that a separate (from Verizon) phone service would be charging exorbitant fees for a collect call, that the charges are unregulated, and would be added to my Verizon bill, to be paid with my phone bill. I had to find that out the hard way. But I did find out that most likely somewhere on that phone it should have stated what the rates were for people using credit or debit cards to dial directly, but they are not required to state the rates for reversed charges.... collect calls. Apparently smarter people than me know to ask the fees before they accept the charges.....but even if I'd known I was about to be charged at robber's rates, how could I have not answered the call for help?
I immediately went online to look up the ILD Teleservices website...but page after page of complaints dominate the search engines. People all over the country are being charged sky-high rates, some of which turn up month after month, no matter how much complaining or fighting the victim. I even saw one person who got slapped with a $179 charge when they were not even in the country, and their house was locked and empty! ILD Teleservices is hooked up with pay phones in private restaurants bars and service stations and such all over the country. This is a multi-million dollar business. No wonder they don't answer their phones or emails. Only going to the PUC got me any satisfaction and that was a fluke. I imagine some people do not even notice the charge right away. And I am sure some people just pay it and never question or complain. So ILD can afford to negotiate a lower charge once in a while. And I would bet that in general, the people who are hurt the most by these rip-off collect call rates are folks who have very little to start with, and/or people who are in a jam, stranded and needing help.
After speaking with Verizon, who informed me this was all legal and I should have asked the charges before accepting the call (again my dilemma). They recommended I try to reach this company and try to negotiate to reduce the charge. I tried several times to phone ILD Teleservices Co. but was put on hold for long periods of time, no one ever answered. Since they ask for a billing number on their phone menu before you are forwarded to muzak, I was also concerned I would be billed for trying to reach them to complain! I tried to call restaurant too as our state's consumer affairs division tells me it is very likely they are profiting very well from this scam. No answer there either. We'd had some very bad wind storms the night after I brought my husband back home. There was a lot of severe damage and I can only hope a tree fell on the place. (P.S., as I edit this many months after writing I can report that the restaurant in question has burned to the ground. And no, I didn't do it. Some folks call it the loss of a landmark, but I can't grieve.)
I did call Oregon's Public Utility Commission. Ordinarily, they told me, they wouldn't be able to help, since this is legal. BUT, since I hadn't been able to get a response by phone or email from ILD Teleservices, they could help me. And indeed, after I faxed them the bill and the story and they got the bill reduced by 2/3....and called back me to let me know! Still a pretty spendy bill for a 6 minute call. Can't help but think of the many persons using that phone...the only one in miles.... who end up being way over-charged either on their credit card or home phone bill...especially if they take some time to chat a while! Oh, and I DIID go online and file a formal complaint about ILD with the Federal Communications Commission. But in case you haven't noticed the FCC is busy auctioning off our airwaves and allowing mega-corporations to monopolize our radio and TV media, controlling the content of what we see and hear and squeezing our crucial small local stations out of the picture, so I don't hold much hope I will ever get a response from them.
So how do you avoid this sort of legal scam? Well maybe you don't. Who can refuse to take a collect call from a loved one or friend whose very act of calling collect suggests a dire need of some sort? But you can ask for the charges when the call comes in, so you know how much it will cost, and be compelled to keep it brief. If you do try to complain to ILD it is likely you will not get through to them, which leaves you with the option of having your state's PUC assist you. Even if your PUC can't help you, you should lodge a complaint if your state allows. If ILD does respond to you I'm told you can negotiate the fees down. Who knows, since they seemed to be phantoms when I tried to reach them. You should file a complaint with the FCC....maybe if they get enough of them....we can dream it's still an honorable government, for the people...dah dah dah dah. And you can put a bug in the ear of your state's representative and see if we can't put an end to this highway robbery...literally highway robbery in our case.
Just be aware and be prepared.....and definitely beware the collect phone call, though you ignore it at your risk.