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by Jan Harold Brunvand
December 2, 1997
You may've heard some news story recently about nefarious phone companies "hijacking" consumers' long-distance business without proper consent. This is commonly called "phone slamming."
In essence, phone slamming consists of an unauthorized change to a consumer's home or business telephone service. Legally, a company may only change your local toll or long-distance provider with a signed Letter of Agency (LOA) from you. Scam artists are finding sneaky ways around the Federal regulations.
According to some published accounts:
I had my own experience with phone slamming a few years ago. On three separate occasions, AT&T offered me a cash reward for changing my "Dial 1" long-distance carrier to them. No big deal; I access US Sprint directly by dialing "10333" anyway. Endorsing and cashing the check was considered legal authority for AT&T to make the change for me. I took the money, and AT&T became my "dial 1" provider. ... But they ALSO CANCELLED MY ACCOUNT with US Sprint. I read the checks carefully on the last two occasions, and found no authority to close or cancel my current provider's account. I argued with AT&T and Sprint until I was out of breath; both insisted that the authority to change my "Dial 1" carrier was also sufficient authority to cancel my Sprint account. Phooie, I said,... it's slamming. I still think so.
I consider this a "Hoax du Jour" because one of the ways that this "new threat" is being publicized is through e-mail. Both the e-mail discussion, and the major news stories, about phone slamming feature the three common features of Internet virus hoaxes (according to the CIAC):
I've recently seen local TV stations present the threat of slamming wth all the alarm and hysteria that was previously displayed in the Michelangelo Computer Virus fiasco. (The link is to Rob Rosenberger's excellent account of the affair on his Computer Virus Myths site.) Once again, I think otherwise responsible reporters are playing the part of Chicken Little.
What I find rather insulting is the anxious urgency to the last item, The Request. Media consumer advocates are shrieking to viewers that they need to act protect themselves RIGHT NOW,... but conveniently forget to mention that this problem has been around for almost two years, and that the FCC enforces several consumer protection regulations. You are protected by law from paying higher rates or "change charges" if you are slammed. If you're slammed ... you have a recourse. (Source: FCC Consumer Alert.)
Many otherwise authoritative and informative announcements from consumer advocates, District Attorneys and Attorneys General refer to the problem as "sweeping our community" ... when in fact, many instances reflect attacks on areas by slammers IN ANOTHER STATE entirely. Again, it's the local angle that gets the urban folkloric juices flowing, in a manner similar to the "Bloods' Initiation Hoax" a few years ago.
Hence my assertion that this is something of a Hoax du Jour. Not because it isn't a real threat (and the consumer DOES have a recourse), but because the urgency of the problem is being blown out of proportion. By all means, make a review of your phone bill and talk to your local teleco, but PLEASE don't worry that the sky is falling.