Cagey Consumer

Consumer Alert: Phone Bill Savings

Featured link: What To Do About Phone Cramming: Call the Shots (Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/10/1998)
Your local phone bill can contain charges from many businesses besides just your local phone company and your pre-subscribed long distance carriers. There can be charges from pay-per-call services, collect calls, "dial-around" services, and even charges that have nothing to do with phone service. In large part, this is a result of the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, and the right of third parties to have their charges appear on your local phone bill. These charges can appear even if you have 900/976 blocking.

To complicate matters further, such charges are often routed through an independent billing company that transmits billing information to the appropriate local phone company. Until recently, phone companies had blindly accepted these charges, but finally, at least one has responded to this issue (see article list).

Consumers can reduce the probability of these spurious charges by being added to the blocking database of each of the companies listed in the table below.

The best way to get added to the blocking database is to use the fax number listed. You should fax a signed request to add your phone number to their blocking database. If an auto-block number is listed, you can initiate blocking by calling from the phone to be blocked 24 hours a day.

You can also call the toll-free voice numbers during the hours indicated, but this increases the chance that the wrong phone number will be entered into the database, and you're likely to find yourself spending a long time getting through to a live customer service rep.

billing company hours (ET) voice auto-block fax
American Telnet 8 am - 8 pm M-F 800-460-0307 800-204-2569  
Enhanced Service Billing Inc. (ESBI)
(division of Billing Concepts)
  888-302-3724   210-949-7100
Info Access Inc.     800-568-3197(?)  
Integretel 8 am - 1 am M-F 800-736-7500 800-425-6256 408-362-2791
International Telemedia (ITA) 8 am - 9:30 pm M-F
9 am - 5 pm Sat
Long Distance Billing Co   800-748-4309    
National Billing Exchange (NBE) 8 am - 9 pm M-F 800-879-4297   407-894-6224
OAN Specialized Products/Services 8 am - 9 pm M-F 800-947-5084   818-678-4679
Pilgrim Telephone 8 am - 12 mid M-F 800-382-5500    
Telecom Operator Services (USP&C) 8:30 am - 8:30 pm M-F 800-449-1058   816-965-2630
US Billing Inc. (USBI)
(division of Billing Concepts)
8 am - 11 pm M-F 800-460-0556    
Vartec (dial-around long distance)   800-583-0670   888-230-7617
VR$ 900 Billing Services   call Integretel call Integretel 408-362-2874
Zero Plus Dialing Inc. (ZPDI)
(division of Billing Concepts)
9 am - 7 pm M-F 888-511-0734   210-949-7464
According to reports, ITA either won't honor blocking requests at all, or will honor them for only 6 months, but notifying them anyway may strengthen your position in the event of a billing dispute.

Last, but not least, talk to your local phone company about being added to the billed number screening as well as 900/976 blocking. And while you're at it, don't forget to ask for a PIC freeze to prevent your long distance service from being switched to a different phone company.

Here are links to some media articles on this issue:

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Updated September 14, 1998