Phone Service Consumers Facts
Looking For A Great Long Distance Deal?
Whether you make only one or two calls a month - or hundreds of calls - there is a long distance plan for you. While the long distance marketplace can be overwhelming, a little bit of consumer education can help you make cents!
Read all the information related to price
As with all purchases, read the fine print and make sure that the plan you choose is a "good fit." Specifically, look at:
Shop as you would for any consumer product
Ask your provider and other providers about any "sales" or promotions they might be running. Compare "apples to apples". Check out phone company web sites.
Check for restrictions on the advertised rates
Decode comparative claims
Look at your monthly bills carefully
Pay attention to your bill, checking to make sure you are being charged exactly what you were told and expected. If you think there's a mistake, or if you just don't understand your bill, call your provider for an explanation.
Glossary of Important Terms
Toll Free Service Explained
A toll free number, also known as an "800 number", is a service where the person receiving the call pays for the call, rather than the caller. Toll free numbers are commonly used by large, mid-sized, small and home based businesses. However, more and more residential customers are using toll free numbers as an alternative to calling cards and collect calls.
Because of increasing usage of toll free services, toll free numbers are no longer restricted to "800" numbers. Currently, any phone number that begins with 800, 888, 877 or 866 is a toll free number.
Toll free numbers work very easily. First, you would select a toll free service provider. During the application process, you would need to select a "ring to" number. A "ring to" number is the phone number you would like your toll free service to ring in on.
Having a toll free number does not change your
outgoing or direct dialed incoming calls. All
callers who dial the "ring to" number directly,
without using the toll free number, will pay for
the call themselves (unless the call to you is
local for them). Any calls you make from the
"ring to" number, will work as normal. The only
charges you will have for a toll free number
would be a monthly service fee, depending on the
provider, and usage on any incoming calls that
were made by dialing the toll free number.
Do You Need a Toll Free Number?
Many home based and small businesses today are employing the use of toll free numbers for their business. Now, the question is does your business need a toll free number?
If you are marketing strictly offline to a local market, then you probably do not need one. However, if you market your business online or to a large offline area, then you may want to consider having a toll free number.
Having a toll free number when marketing your product or service online will add professionalism to your business. It also makes it easier for customers to contact you with questions and order products. It gives your website a "live" feel. It can also be the difference between making a sale or not with certain customers who are still leery of the web.
By making a toll free number available to your customers, you present an image of solidarity that customers often look for. All you have to do is look at the big commercial sites selling on the web to see that even with the boom of their dot.com store fronts, they are still making live support available to the customer.
It pays to shop around when considering a toll free number. Some of the more mainstream companies command rates starting at 7.5 cents a minute with a 10 dollar monthly fee and 25 dollar minimums. For a home based or small business owner, that can quickly put a toll free out of your price range.
But there are many smaller phone companies that cater to the toll free needs of small and home-based businesses, with pricing starting as low as only 2 dollars a month and 3.9 cents per minute, with no required monthly minimums.
Some smaller phone companies also offer "stand alone" and "forwardable" toll free service, so you can get a toll free number without having to change your long distance company.
You still get quality connections and customer support with the smaller companies, but because they donít do big budget advertising, they are able to offer lower rates. And the difference in these rates can make the difference in affordability for the home based or small business owner.
Of course, not every type of business is right for the toll free approach, but those offering products and services to a national audience should seriously consider making a toll free number an addition to their business.
"Cramming" is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Companies that fraudulently cram people seem to depend largely on confusing telephone bills in order to mislead consumers into paying for services that they did not authorize or receive.
Local telephone companies often bill their customers for long distance and other services that other companies provide. When the local company, the long distance carrier, or another type of service provider either accidentally or intentionally sends inaccurate billing data to be included on the consumerís local telephone bill, cramming occurs. "Cramming" shows up in many forms, and can be hard to detect unless you go over your phone bill very carefully.
How to protect yourself from "cramming":
Review your monthly phone bill each and every month, just as if it were a bank statement or credit card statement.
Check to make sure you recognize all the names of the companies listed on your bill. Keep track of what services were provided by listed companies, and learn what fees are for what service.
If you donít know what service was provided for a charge listed on your bill, call your telephone or long distance company and ask them to explain the charges.
Make sure you know what even "small" charges are for. Crammers often try to go undetected by submitting $2.00 or $3.00 charges to thousands of consumers.
Keep a record of the telephone services you have authorized and used Ė including calls placed to 900 numbers and other types of telephone information services. These records can be helpful when billing descriptions are unclear.
Carefully read all forms and promotional materials, including the fine print, before signing up for telephone services or other services to be billed on your phone bill. Contact your agent or company with any questions you may have.
What to do if you've been "crammed":
Immediately call the company that charged you for calls you did not place, or charged you for services you did not authorize or use. Ask the company to explain the charges. Request an adjustment to your bill for any incorrect charges.
You can also report incidences of cramming to the FCC via their toll free number at: 1-888-CALL-FCC.
"Slamming" is the practice of switching a customerís long distance carrier without his or her knowledge or consent. It is illegal, under Section 258 of the Telecommunications Act.
How to protect yourself from "slamming":
You can freeze your existing carrier, which prohibits another carrier from claiming that it has been authorized to request a carrier change on behalf of the consumer.
Review your phone bills carefully each month. If
you see any unfamiliar names, or charges that you
cannot identify, call your local phone company
and ask about these items.
If you receive a phone call about long distance service and you are not interested in switching your service, be sure to tell the caller that you are not interested in receiving his or her service.
If someone sends you a letter or postcard "verifying" that you have switched services when you did not initiate or consent to the switch, notify them that you did not authorize the change, then call your local telephone company to confirm that you are still with your preferred carrier.
What to do if you've been "slammed":
Call your local telephone company and tell them that you did not order service from the new long distance carrier and you would like to be reconnected to your long distance company. Also, tell your local phone company that you want any switching fees (charges for switching companies) taken off your bill.
Next, call the long distance company you were switched from and report the switch. Ask to be reconnected. You should not be charged for this reconnection.
Call the company that slammed you and let them know that all charges within 30 days of the slamming should be removed from the bill. Any other charges should be reduced to those that would have been charged by the authorized carrier. If this carrier will not adjust these charges, contact the FCC by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC.
If you are unable to resolve your complaint with the company that switched your service, you can file a complaint with the FCC via phone number listed above.
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