Phone Fraud

We All Pay

An illustrated fact sheet that describes what phone fraud is and how you can become a victim. Explains how to protect yourself and how to complain about phone fraud.

Phone Fraud

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Note: Last revision 1997. Use this information as a general guide only; consult with a local consumer group for laws specific to your state.

It could happen to you

A California man received a call from a friendly person who said he was a representative of a long distance company. The caller said he wanted to verify the customer's calling card number, because "It looks like someone might be using it to make long distance phone calls without your permission."

Because the customer wanted to be helpful, he gave his calling card number to the caller. Imagine his shock when his next phone bill was for $30,000--and included hundreds of calls to cities all over the world!

A Texas woman was so eager to move to her new home that she forgot to tell the phone company to disconnect the phone service at her old address. A month after she moved she received a bill for $500 for local and long distance calls made from her old house--after she had moved away!

These are just two sad stories about the problems people can have if they are not careful about their telephone service. It is estimated that every year calling card fraud and other crimes involving the illegal use of phone services cost consumers and phone companies over $1 billion.

People who are the victims of such fraud do not have to pay for calls they didn't make, as long as they report the problem to their phone companies as soon as possible. However, each of us pays for the fraudulent misuse of the phone system. We pay through higher prices for phone services to make up for money lost to criminals.

The good news is that you can reduce this kind of fraud by taking a few simple precautions. This brochure highlights some common types of frauds, and explains what you can do to avoid them.

A "moving experience"

You are moving to a new home. With all the activity you forget to notify your phone companies of the move...

Action to take:

A phone bill sent to a vacant home is an open invitation to crooks to attempt to steal the phone calling card number. In addition, if your phone service is still connected, anyone who breaks into your old residence--or who moves into the place--can plug in a phone and make calls that are charged to your account. Since the bill is in your name, the phone company will ask you to pay it.

Always call your local and long distance companies before you move. That way your service can be stopped the day you leave, your final bill can be sent to your new address, and service can be re-established at your new location the day you need it.

Card verification

Your phone rings and a nice-sounding man says he is with the phone company or a government agency. He says there have been many calls made on your calling card, and he wants to verify your card number...

Action to take:

A telephone calling card is like a credit card, because it allows you to make phone calls without using coins. Never give your calling card number over the phone to anyone calling you, no matter who they claim to be. A phone company would never ask you to verify your calling card number--it already knows what it is!

You also have to be very careful whenever you use the card in a public place, like an airport or the lobby of a building. Cover up your card so that others cannot see it. If you must read it aloud, make sure others cannot overhear you. If the phone has a digital display of your number, cover it.

Any time you think that someone you don't know has your calling card number--regardless of how they obtained it--call your phone company right away. The phone company can quickly cancel the card and give you a new one almost immediately.

Long distance calls

Your phone rings and an operator says she has "Bob" on the line and he would like to charge a long distance call to your phone number. Your husband's name is Bob...

Action to take:

Are you sure it's your husband calling? You can ask the operator to let you hear the person's voice. Frequently, a con artist (swindler) looks in the phone book for listings of couples, like "Jane and Bob Smith," that he can use in placing calls without paying for them.

He will ask the operator to place a long distance call and bill it to the Smiths' phone number. He will pretend to be Bob and hope that Bob's wife Jane will answer the phone when the operator calls to make sure the charge will be accepted.

When you make a call from one phone and charge it to another phone, that is known as "third party billing." The operator should confirm that the person making the call has the right to charge it to the other phone number.

If an operator calls you and asks if a call can be billed to your account, always make sure you know the identity of the person making the call.


To stop telephone fraud, remember these tips:

  • Do not give your calling card number to any stranger who calls you, and guard that number carefully when using it to make calls in public places.
  • Call your phone company immediately if you think that someone has obtained your calling card number.
  • Before you move, tell your local phone company to disconnect your phone service and tell your long distance carrier where to forward its bill.
  • Don't allow anyone to charge calls to your phone without first checking their identity.
  • Never give out any personal information about yourself to strangers who call you.
  • Review your local and long distance bills as soon as you receive them, and contact these phone companies immediately if there are charges on the bills that you don't understand.
  • Consumers are not required to pay for unauthorized charges on their phone bill. Follow the procedure explained on your bill for notifying your long distance company about any disputed charge.

Funded by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, Sprint, and the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs

Produced by Consumer Action

Electronic publication funded by Sprint

For more information

All phone customers have consumer rights:

  • If you have any questions about charges on your phone bill or the services that you receive from your local or long distance phone company, contact that company and ask it for an explanation. The number to call should be printed on your phone bill.
  • Every state has a government agency that regulates telephone companies and investigates consumer complaints about telephone services. These "utility commissions" handle inquiries about telephone calls and services that take place entirely within the state. If you don't know the name of your state utility commission, look in your local phone book or contact a local consumer agency.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a federal government agency that handles complaints and questions about all interstate telephone services (calls between states). You can contact the FCC at: 2025 M St., N.W., Room 6202, Washington, D.C. 20554; 1-202-632-7553; 1-202-632-6999 (TTY).

Published / Reviewed Date

Published: April 01, 1997

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Filed Under

Fraud/Scams   ♦   Telecom   ♦  


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