Charter Publishes Unlisted Numbers In The Phone Book

Tim enjoyed his unlisted phone number for over thirty years until Charter published it in the local phone book. Now he has two options: ditch his long-time number, or lose his cherished anonymity. Inside, Charter’s apology letter.

Tim writes:

I thought you might find the attached (redacted) letter of interest. I’ve had an unlisted phone number for over 30 years, but no more. Moreover, although I use a PO box for billing and everything else, this letter was sent to my street address, so that is probably the address that was sold and will be associated with my phone number. The worst of both worlds.


You can’t un-ring a bell, but at last Charter seems slightly sorry for the surprise outing. Other than not publishing Tim’s number in the first place, how else, if at all, do you think Charter should respond?

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. BeeBoo says:

    Well, at least they “take the protection of [their] customers’ privacy seriously.”

  2. coan_net says:

    Mistakes happen, and it looks like Charter is admitting it and trying to take responsibility for the mistake with solution & credits.

    • mmmsoap says:

      @coan_net: Mistakes happen, yes, and this is one of the better responses I’ve seen from corporations in a while (<sigh> maybe I’m too jaded) but I have a suspicion they’re so proactive because they broke the law, and they know it. IANAL, and I’m sure it varies state-by-state, but my understanding that consumers had a legal right to be non-listed (even if they were expected to pay — usally $25-30 per year — to exercise that right.)

  3. LeoSolaris says:

    I say, good job Charter. You made a mistake, but at least you guys own up to it and try to fix it as best you can. Ethics in business… shocking!

  4. JMB says:

    Charter should give him the new number for free, forward calls from his old phone (if he requests) for free, and provide all of their “privacy services” for free, for at least the next 12 months.

    • johnnya2 says:

      @JMB: That would defeat the purpose. If they forward calls from his old number he still will be getting those calls. The solution Charter offered is reasonable and appropriate.

      As for stalkers and abusers, they can easily found out where you live. There are too many items in life which are public record by law. If you use a PO Box for mailing, the post office has your physical address, if you have property it is legally open to be found by anybody. You may want your privacy and “protection” but at the same time when a person decides to be hidden the abuser can also do the same and avoid detection for what they do.

  5. homerjay says:

    I don’t understand the concept of an unlisted number (an unlisted wall, sure). For 99.999% of the population, is it really important that nobody can look up your number in the book or through information? What’s so great about you? Now that you’re in the book are people going to be calling you left and right at random?

    Am I missing something here?

    “You wouldn’t be so concerned about what people thought about you if you realized how infrequently they thought about you.” – Dr. Phil

    • humphrmi says:

      @homerjay: Some telemarketing companies use the phone book listings.

      • Sudonum says:

        @humphrmi:
        When I was in High School many many years ago, my father the salesman used to be able to lease books from the phone company (ATT or GTE were the only ones at the time) that had ALL numbers in them, even the unlisted ones. At that time the only thing an unlisted number got you was absence from the phone book, not absence from the telemarketers lists. If much had changed then we wouldn’t need the Do Not Call Registry.

    • lizk says:

      @homerjay: Yes, it’s really important that those of us with unlisted numbers have them unlisted. The next time you get a death threat over the phone, you might feel the same way.

    • scoobydoo says:

      @homerjay: When I got my new Comcast phone line, we were listed. Within 2 hours of activating the number, we had already received 12 calls from telemarketers. Comcast admitted the screwup and gave us a new unlisted/unpublished number, and we haven’t been called since.

      So yeah; I want to keep my number private. Those that need to call me, know where to find me. If you don’t know where to find me, I don’t want to talk to you.

    • Julia789 says:

      @homerjay: Hundreds of solicitation calls from marketers, non-profit groups, individual sales people, and the possible sale of your name and street address to mail marketing companies.

    • randomangela47 says:

      @homerjay: I take it you’ve never had the experience of being stalked by an ex.

      @2719: No tin foil hat needed. You don’t know the person’s circumstances. Sometimes privacy really is a matter of life or death. Maybe, maybe not for this person, but only the blissfully ignorant would assume this person MUST be crazy for being unlisted.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @homerjay: While your heart might skip a beat in excitement every time a stranger calls you about a Florida time-share plan that’s out of this world, there are those that would prefer not to receive such calls. Many people prefer to minimize their public footprint and they should be allowed to do so – this is America, right?
      And that’s skipping over stalking victims, abused spouses, etc.
      Don’t hate on people who prefer protecting their privacy.

    • @homerjay: Never been stalked, eh?

      Aside from the joy of telemarketing, and aside from the joy of stalky exes, which others have mentioned above, I once got ENDLESSLY harassed by a religious cult I wrote a news article that tangentially mentioned them. (It wasn’t even about how their were a nasty, evil cult that was brainwashing people and engaging in illegal behavior. It just mentioned them in passing as supporting a particular issue.) They tasked their members to call me around the clock, non-stop. It was horrific, and the phone company and police told me it had to go on for TWO WEEKS before I could do anything about it. By two weeks, I was a basket case, partly because I hardly got to sleep.

      (I know, I know, turn the phone off. There were many other issues at work, including it being a pre-cell-phone world and me having very ill grandparents who died not long after. It’d be a different issue today than it was then.)

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      @homerjay: Yes, those of us who work at schools or governments NEED unlisted numbers. Also the disgusting panting sex calls I used to get (unrelated, I hadn’t been working at schools yet).

      Just because no one wants to bother YOU doesn’t mean that the rest of us are that lucky.

    • the-perfect-face-for-radio says:

      @homerjay:

      dude, it’s my phone, my house and my choice. i wouldn’t settle for anything less than a free unlisted number for life, or else they would hear from my lawyer.

    • PinkBox says:

      @homerjay: My question is why anyone would WANT their number listed in a public directory, along with their home address and name.

      Anyone that I want to reach me knows this information already. I’ll keep my anonymity, thanks.

      • LightLeigh says:

        @PinkBox: My question is why anyone would WANT their number listed in a public directory, along with their home address and name.

        I always enjoyed having my home phone number in the phone book. It would allow people whom I had lost touch with to call me. I don’t remember ever having much of a problem with being “listed”. I did withhold my address though, for safety reasons (which was free, by the way).

        There was one time a company that I had interviewed with called me up over a year later to offer me a job. My phone number had changed, but they were able to look me up.

        I have since moved to an internet based phone, so I’m no longer “in the book”.

    • @homerjay:

      There are people that need to hide from the public or at least have a private and a real private number

      My Doc’s business “home” phone is published, not the private home phone to which his close personal friends and family have access. The business “home” phone is the one that is answered by an answering service.

      My Dog’s Vet is the same way.

      Town’s Mayor is the same way.

      IF they had no published telephone then everybody would go other of their way to find THE number. This way there is a public, after hours, “home” contact number, but it does not totally interfere with their private lives.

      There are rape and assult victims that do not want their number published for fear of further attacks.

      There are family members of convicts or politicians that do not need harassment because of their family relations.

      I would guess a 1 or 2% of the population feel they have a need to keep their telephone unpublished and maybe half of them are correct to some degree.

      What Charter did to this person may not be a big deal, but how would you feel if you were a rape victim trying to hide from her past and you got this type of letter?

      Yuk.

      I say hold out for the big bucks. Let Charter provide free telephone service for the next 2-3 years as compensation for their screwup.

    • MSUHitman says:

      @homerjay: Some people, like teachers, police/firemen, and local politicians need to have unlisted phone numbers so they are not harrassed. My aunt, a teacher, has an unlisted phone number. My boss at work, who is a former fire board member and still helps the current fire board president, has an unlisted number.

    • erratapage says:

      @homerjay: It is vitally important to me to have an unlisted number. It’s not that I’m special. It’s that I have a job that I need to leave at the office. I work in a volatile business, and have received death threats.

      I couldn’t care less if the DNC called me every night at dinner time. They already have my number and routinely call. (I regret that one donation!) I just don’t need my clients and their soon-to-be ex-husbands/wives to be calling me at home.

  6. silver-bolt says:

    Did he even check to see if his number was actually printed?

  7. 2719 says:

    Nobody is perfect. Mistakes happen. Charter did the right thing. I, too, could never understand people with unpublished numbers. Plus this guy had a PO box for his bills. He probably wears a tin foil hat too…

    • whatdoyoucare says:

      @2719: Not acceptable. My brother-in-law is a juvenile probation officer and my sister teachers high schoolers with behavior disorders. She has been punched by a student before. My sister didn’t find it funny when their phone company accidently published their phone number and address last year. Frankly, she was scared.

  8. SamTheGeek says:

    If Tim really had an unlisted number for 30 years then Charter has to do better than 12 months of refunds. They should do at least 2 if these 3 things:
    1. Call the phonebook company and request that the number not be included AND demonstrate what they are doing to ensure that the error does not happen again
    2. Refund all 30 years of unlisting fees (Unlikely)
    3. Find him a new phone number, with free unlisting for one year, and give him assistance in switching to it AND refund to him whatever they phonebook publisher paid for his number.

  9. lol_wut says:

    My wife came from an abusive relationship prior to meeting up with me. She had an unlisted number and address – which some could suggest was a sharp contrast from her open book personality. When her ex started following up on her in the weeks leading up to our wedding, I took notice of the calls and began tracking them. I’ll admit that if I didn’t work for a wireless phone company I wouldn’t have been able to mount a case against the guy, and without my contacts at competing companies I would not have been able to locate his current account that he was calling from.

    It took one annoymous call to his cell phone @ 3:00 in the morning a month after my wife and I got married to end his cycle of abuse once and for all. I pretty much then gave him his life story up to that point, demonstrating I knew who he was, what he was doing, and what steps I would take legally to end his abuse. After that, my wife got a new, unlisted number for her mobile and the house.

    If after 6 years of marriage the guy was still thumbing through web searches looking for my wife, and hit the jackpot because the phone / cable company released our info “in error”, $60 would be far from enough compensation for what may [or may not] follow. Sure, you can change a number to your heart’s content. It is much harder, though, to change an address.

  10. DH405 says:

    Hey, Tim! You’re somebody!

  11. Lucky225 says:

    Wow that is RIDICULOUS! They offer to change your phone number — what about your ADDRESS? What about victims of domestic violence who have since moved to charter territory, enrolled in a Confidential Residential address program through the local State government, and are actively in hiding? Are you going to offer to relocate these victims charter? SHAME on you. Shame on corporations PUBLISHING information about their subscribers to begin with. A phone is a necessity in this day and age, and to be so careless about your customer’s information is inexcusable, especially when you extort them for a monthly fee to KEEP the information unpublished.

  12. nt0xik8ed says:

    this sounds like Debix, they said they would protect my credit. in the mean time they sold my name and address to every solicitor on earth. now i get junk mail with my full name blazing across it like a billboard from a company in new jersey wanting to sell me a shirt with my full name blazing across the front of it!!!

  13. yikz says:

    $60 isn’t enough. I’d want more than that. My time is worth more than that. Changing numbers is going to be a time-consuming PITA. In fact, I would give Charter a list of phone numbers and say, “Here, you notify these people of YOUR screwup, and tell them that my number has changed.” I want this to be at least as painful to Charter as it is to their customers. It’s only by sharing the agony will Charter prevent this kind of stupid act again.

  14. orlo says:

    I constantly get notices about how concerned companies are with protecting my privacy, but the telephone company distributes my name and address in convenient book-form to everybody. There’s plenty of idiots and nutcases I’ve met that don’t need my number to prank call me.

  15. davere says:

    I work in IT and I would get calls during evenings and weekends from users. “I’m sorry to bother you, but it’s just a quick question.”

    That wouldn’t be a big deal except that it was 1 or 2 every single night and several on the weekends. What may not seem like a big deal to them, was multiplied several times every single day

    It got to the point that I had to change numbers and get it unlisted.

    What always annoyed me is that monthly feel for an unlisted number. I can understand a single one time fee, but every month for them NOT to make any changes to the database? Ridiculous.

    • evslin says:

      @davere: What always annoyed me is that monthly feel for an unlisted number. I can understand a single one time fee, but every month for them NOT to make any changes to the database? Ridiculous.

      Yeah, I don’t particularly like that either.

      “Nice privacy you got there… wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to it, now would you?”

  16. spanky says:

    It’s shocking how quickly and how thoroughly these things can be propagated.

    Some years back, Qwest published my unlisted number and address, and I spent ridiculous amounts of time and effort trying to mitigate the damage. Not only did I immediately start getting telemarketing and scam calls, but various and sundry websites were publishing the phone records as well. (At that point, it had been about a year since my stalker had actually shown up at my door and tried to assault me, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was because he’d given up, or if it was because he didn’t know where I was.)

    Sohat if anything is Charter doing to ensure that the unlisted numbers they published aren’t being propagated any further?

  17. Major-General says:

    Breach of contract lawsuit?

  18. 2719 says:

    Sorry to tell you guys but there is no such thing as privacy. If someone wants to find you, unpublished number and/or address won’t help you much.

    $60 is way too much for this IMHO.

    They were kind enough to tell him “Whoops we made a mistake!” which is way more than a lot of other companies are willing to do.

    • spanky says:

      @2719:
      I haven’t seen anyone claim that having an unpublished number affords them ultimate privacy. That’s just a ridiculous straw man. People get unlisted numbers because that makes it more difficult for certain people to locate and contact them. And, as part of an overall plan, it is pretty effective. More importantly, without the unlisted number, even the most well thought out and executed plan is ineffective.

      That said, arguments about the wisdom and/or effectiveness of unlisted numbers are beside the point. People see value in having an unlisted number, and phone companies charge them based on that perceived value. Your opinion of the service is irrelevant.

    • PinkBox says:

      @2719: When I was a lot younger, I remember going in for a job interview where I was told I’d take calls for donations for the local fire company.

      Turns out they wanted ME to do the calling.

      The first thing they did was plop a few printed pages of the phone book in front of me, and wanted me to call each number.

      I walked out.

  19. lordargent says:

    homerjay : I don’t understand the concept of an unlisted number (an unlisted wall, sure). For 99.999% of the population, is it really important that nobody can look up your number in the book or through information?

    Hey, post your phone number.

    What? You don’t want a bunch of random people to have your phone number? Imagine that.

    /phone book listings end up on the internet where anyone around the world can parse the data contained in said book and throw it into an auto-dialing program, look for people to bombard with all sorts of surveys, scams and other such BS.

  20. nagumi says:

    I’m impressed that the way the OP found out about the issue was the apology letter. It shows a commitment to customer service when a company proactively admits mistakes and attempts to make amends. Everybody makes mistakes.

  21. toxbrux says:

    If I were him I’d get the new number… sure it’s a pain in the butt to basically call 30 years’ worth of people and tell them, “Whoops! Number change!” but this is a case of privacy over (what is now) the convenience of keeping your old number, and in this guy’s own personal history, privacy clearly wins.

  22. P_Smith says:

    You can’t un-ring a bell, but at last Charter seems slightly sorry for the surprise outing. Other than not publishing Tim’s number in the first place, how else, if at all, do you think Charter should respond?

    In Charter’s case, they should be required to cover any expenses incurred by the customer in protecting his privacy, whether changing the number, the cost of removing the customer’s name from junk mail lists, or whatever.

    In future cases, such companies should be fined in the same way telemarketers are fined for calling people on the “Do not call” list, and the fines be given to the customer they injured. The only way companies are going to pay any attention is to hit them where they notice the pain: in their wallets.

  23. razremytuxbuddy says:

    In Kansas, a phone directory just published addresses that were supposed to be unpublished. Addresses are not published for safety reasons. It seems like these phone directory errors are becoming common. An apology after the fact is not good enough when a phone directory publishes someone’s confidential address, which makes the person vulnerable to a stalker or other predator.

  24. billbobbins says:

    Years ago I received a letter from a local grocery store saying that I needed to come in immediately and clear up a bounced check I had written. That’s funny since I rarely shopped in that store, but I nervously went in anyway. Turns out there were two “Bill Bobbins” (not my real name, but you get the point) in my area in the phone book and they picked the wrong one. All because my number was listed.

  25. homerjay says:

    Wow, a LOT of people around here get stalked! Yeesh, my life is pretty boring in comparison.

    I had no idea that telemarketers got their numbers from phone book listings. I thought they got them from every other possible source who sold their customer information which is… well… just about every company.

    Thanks for cluing me in, folks.

    • PinkBox says:

      @homerjay: My apologies. I meant to link to Homerjay here, not 2719.

    • Jetgirly says:

      @homerjay: I teach in a high school with long history of gang violence. We have a full-time police officer at the school, which is very unusual for my area. I have immigrant students who are older than me (I’m twenty-four) because they showed fake documents at the time they entered the school system. I’m fortunate in that 99.9% of my students treat me with the utmost respect in the classroom and around the school, but sadly, there are students at the school who scare me. All the students know that teachers are given laptops, I have nice clothes, I occasionally mention my international travels, the school basically announced that I was unmarried (and therefore likely live alone) when they put Miss Jetgirly on the student timetables… I would be a perfect target for theft if a student was desperate. Rob a teacher or go without food? I don’t think the choice is that hard to a twenty-five year old man who is repeating the eleventh grade.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @homerjay: It’s not that we’re all stalking victims, it’s that we’re not so dickish to think that just because someone has preferences different than ours, they can’t complain when these choices are trampled on. You should try this approach sometime. You might find – I donno – you have more friends or something.

  26. arjoh1234 says:

    You can avoid “unlisted” and “unpublished” phone comapany charges while keeping a “private” number. Telemarketers rely entirely upon published information.

    For a private number, when registering with the phone company, request your listing, but not the billing information, under a false name; something common and easy to remember. Like John Doe. And no address.

    Telemarketers will call asking for “John Doe” and you immediately know to hang up.

    The name and number will be published but it costs nothing. And be sure to add the number to the federal “Do Not Call” list immediately.

  27. nsv says:

    One more for the “stalker” problem.

    He probably could find me if he knew where to start looking. I know there must be public records somewhere, though my career gives me a lot of privacy protection. But he doesn’t even know which state to look in.

    If he could just type my name into Google and get the info, that would be a lot easier than spending days searching all the possibilities. And if I ever made it into the phone book, that’s all it would take to find me.

  28. paulyk311 says:

    while the phone number getting out is somewhat concerning, the address argument from the phonebook is null.

    if you own property, regardless of where you live, chances are pretty good that your county’s property assessor not only has that record (as it is public domain), but that record can be viewed online.. not only does it tell the name of the owner of the property, it also often has pictures, floorplans, sale price, taxes owed, and other information that you probably wouldn’t anyone else seeing.

    if you don’t believe me, try it… in fact, look up douglas county, nebraska, and take a look at warren buffet’s house. It’s right there, plain as day.

  29. Nighthawke says:

    DNC lists. Even if you are unlisted/unpublished, get your number on the state and fed DNC lists. Therefore, if your number does accidentally get dumped into the public, the insurance of the lists assures that you do not get any unsolicited calls. If you do, just say DNC listed and they’ll leave you be.
    If they fail at that, the fed and state have Mighty Big Hammers that they can drop on their little heads.

    I’d love to see if there’s any litigation that might develop over this “little goof”.

  30. Canino says:

    Public phone directories should be opt-in, not opt-out. DNC should be automatic with opt-out available.

  31. etherdog says:

    I have my number not unlisted (for which a fee is charged) but under my late dog’s name. Hard to fuck that up.

  32. Ninjanice says:

    Yea, it sucks that these numbers got published. And, yes, people have a right to an unpublished number for whatever reason they want. It doesn’t matter if the people are being stalked, don’t want tons of telemarketer call or any other reason they may want an unpublished number. The fact is that these people paid for a service and did not receive said service. I think Charter did the right thing in owning up to their mistake and providing options for the customer. It’s a given that these people should get back the $ they paid to have an unpublished number. But, I also think they should provide all the security options for free and also give another credit for service for the time and trouble. But, other than that, I don’t see what else they could do about the situation.

  33. Zulujines says:

    Our unlisted phone number was published in the phone book a few years ago. I only noticed because I checked the phone book to make sure it was unlisted (we were dealing with an unstable ex at the time…come to think of it, we still are) and there it was, name, address, and phone number.

    When you see that information you tried so hard to keep private is available for everyone to see, it’s such a sick feeling. If you’ve ever been stalked or harassed, you know what I’m saying.

    Anyway, we called the phone company and all they did was change our number for free. I wish they would have thrown in $60! Changing your phone number is a pain in the ass.

  34. HogwartsAlum says:

    You can really put it under a fake name or a dog’s name? And it doesn’t cost anything? Wow, I didn’t know that.

    I thought about getting an ulisted number, but not if they can mess up like this. My current number, which I’ve had since 2000, is one digit different from the local Child Support Enforcement. I had to put a really goofy message on my answering machine to weed out people who ignore it and just wait for the beep, to get their attention. Otherwise I got all kinds of messages like “Um, yeah, my case number is XXXXXX and I need to talk to someone about it.” One time a lady left HER SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER on my machine! (I called her back and told her I deleted it and NEVER EVER to do that again!)

    I also got a lot of calls for someone who had apparently had that number but disappeared. There were calls from employers, bill collectors and even someone who said he was her father-in-law and was looking frantically for his grandchildren. :(

    Oh, and then there were the middle-of-the-night hangup calls which I finally pinned someone into telling me they were trying to reach a “dating service.” That one got reported to the police.

  35. nerdette314159 says:

    One night while I was in high school, I was home alone babysitting my brother. I received a frightening phone call from someone who told me they knew I was home alone and they were going to come over and rape me, etc… Most frightening night of my life. After that we had our number changed and made it unlisted. At that age, another call like that would make me never want to be home alone again. <3 unlisted.

  36. bbb111 says:

    Charter should offer a new number AND keep the old one active for free as a second line for a year. This way you can send the old number to an answering machine to catch the real callers you might have missed when you told people your new number.

    A nice gesture would be to provide both lines free for a year and provide the answering service (or a machine).

  37. AlbionPolynices says:

    Verizon sent out $5 gift cards to everyone in my area that returned the books with all the unlisted numbers in them. They sent out new books (that were about 1/4 inch thinner) along with an envelope to return the erroneously printed book.