Something obnoxious is going on in the world of toll-free numbers and, if you aren't alert, "fat-finger dialing" can cost you dearly.
Last weekend, I called a payroll debit card provider to close an account that was being eaten up by dormancy fees. (That’s another story …) However, I misdialed the phone number by one digit and heard a recorded message stating there is “new information on this account” and something about pressing the star key on my phone to receive a text message and “data rates may apply.”
I was wise enough to figure out that some sleazy operation was trying to capitalize on my dialing mistake and hung up before accruing charges for who-knows-what. But it turns out this is a widespread problem. And what’s stranger, the messages differ depending on whether you call from a cell phone or a land line.
A Washington resident who called to check the balance on his Electronic Benefits Transfer card (the 21st-century version of food stamps) also heard a message about “new information on this account” and to push a button to accept a text message. He did, and the text message said that “for only $9.99 you can check your account up to 20 times per month.”
We tried calling one of these wrong numbers from a land line and were told to dial “10-15-15-8000”. A Google search shows that number is associated with a scam that attempts to charge people; and that a number of folks found curious “directory assistance” fees on their phone bills with references to “CALLING 10-15-15-800” or “CALLING 10-15-15-8000.”
Search Google and you’ll find similar stories from people who have tried to call Purina Pet Foods, General Electric, Wells Fargo, Kay Jewelers, etc. Another Washington state employee hit the same hurdle when she attempted to reach Social Security.
What’s with these funny numbers, you may wonder? They’re known as “10-10” or “dial-around” codes. Such codes were created to allow consumers to bypass the primary long-distance carrier they’ve chosen for their home phone. Access codes were five digits (10-XXX) until July 1998, when the industry ran out of numbers and started to use seven digits (10-10-XXX). Most companies use 10-10 as part of their codes, although the second zero can be replaced with any number.
So, assuming this is a seven-digit code, that means you’re really calling 10-15-158 (long-distance carrier bypass) + 00 (phone number). This Web site points the finger at a Florida-based company for allegedly snatching up toll-free numbers that are taken out of service, providing the intercept message and then attempting to redirect callers to the outfit's directory assistance service.
Dial-around companies earned around $3 billion in 1999, the year the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission conducted a joint public forum to address concerns about marketing of these services.