It has become all too commonplace for an unscrupulous telephone company to switch your wired service away from your chosen carrier without even asking or telling you. Known as "slamming," this practice, which is illegal under Georgia and federal law, can affect both your local and your long-distance service (in-state, state-to-state or international). You may discover that it has happened to you only by closely examining your monthly bills for unfamiliar names or charges.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) have adopted rules regarding your rights and liability in a slamming situation that make it unprofitable for companies to engage in this activity. The PSC can penalize an in-state phone company up to $15,000 for each slamming violation, with an additional penalty of $10,000 for each day the violation continues, and can put a company on probation or revoke its certificate of authority to operate in Georgia. The FCC's Enforcement Bureau will also take action against slammers.
Under FCC rules, if you find that you have been slammed and you have not yet paid the bill:
- You do not have to pay either company—the one you actually chose to provide service or the slamming company—for service for up to 30 days after being slammed.
- You must pay any charges for service beyond 30 days to the company you have authorized, but at that company's rates rather than the slammer's.
If you discover you have been slammed after you have already paid your phone bill:
- The slamming company must pay your authorized company 150 percent of the payment it received from you.
- Out of this amount, your authorized company will then reimburse you 50 percent of the amount you paid to the slammer. (In other words, if you were charged $100 by the slamming company, it would have to give your authorized company $150, and you would receive $50 of this as reimbursement.)
- You also have the option of asking your authorized carrier to correct the rate of the unauthorized carrier's charges.
Sales ploys that may result in your being unwittingly switched:
- Conning you into signing up for free coupons or entering a sweepstakes that conceals an agreement to switch carriers.
- Mailing you an unsolicited check for a small amount of money which, when signed and cashed, authorizes the company in the fine print to switch your phone service.
- Calling you under the pretense of being your current carrier or an organization conducting a survey. Your answers of "yes" to their questions may be taped to “prove” that you authorized a switch.
- Sending you “negative option” notices that appear as junk mail but which claim to constitute your authorization to switch your service if you do not return them.
How to Avoid Being a Slamming Victim
- If a telemarketer calls you about long-distance or local phone service, or a salesperson comes to your door, insist that you are not interested in receiving the company's service or that you only want to see the details of the offer in writing.
- As always, never sign anything without reading the fine print.
- Ask your local service provider to place a "PIC" freeze on your account. PIC stands for “Pre-subscribed Interexchange Carrier” and refers to your long-distance provider.
- Be clear with family members on who does or does not have permission to make changes in your household’s phone service.
- If in doubt, report suspicious charges on your phone bill to your local telephone company.
Steps to Take if You’ve Been Slammed
- Verify the name of your current long-distance carrier with a free call: 700-555-4141 for interstate or [your area code]-700-4141 for in-state.
- If you have not yet paid the charges, call the slamming company listed on your bill. Tell them a) to cancel immediately the service you did not request; b) that you will not pay for the first 30 days of service; and c) beyond 30 days, you will pay only what your preferred carrier would have charged.
- If you have paid any of the disputed charges, demand a refund from the slamming company unless it can prove that you authorized the switch.
- Call your authorized local or long-distance provider to inform them of the slam. Tell them you want to be reinstated to the same calling plan you had before and that you want them to remove from your bill all "change-of-carrier charges" for switching companies.
- Should these steps not resolve your problem satisfactorily, file a complaint with the PSC and, if you choose, concurrently with the FCC as well:
Georgia Public Service Commission
Consumer Affairs Office
244 Washington Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
Toll-free in Georgia: 800-282-5813
Metro Atlanta: 404-656-4501
Online complaint form
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
The PSC has jurisdiction over intrastate matters but will consider all slamming complaints and attempt to resolve the issue for you in a timely manner, with a minimum of red tape. They will file a complaint on your behalf as a courtesy. However, if the company is not willing to cooperate in an out-of-state or state-to-state situation, they will refer your complaint to the FCC, which has full jurisdiction in interstate matters.
If you report your complaint to the FCC, you must include these items:
- Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address;
- The phone number that was slammed;
- The name of the phone company that slammed you;
- The name of your authorized local phone company;
- The name of your authorized long-distance company;
- A complete statement of the facts;
- COPIES of your phone bill showing the charges you are disputing (Note: if you file with the FCC by e-mail, your bill must be attached electronically);
- Whether or not you have paid any of the disputed charges; and
- The specific relief you are requesting.