Company Caught Switching Customers’ Phone Service Without Permission

So your phone company calls you and says there’s a new plan that can save your on your phone bill, or maybe to let you know that you’re being overcharged for your current service. So you go ahead and switch to the more sensible plan, only to find out weeks later that you’ve actually been switched over to a new service provider you’ve never heard of — and to a plan that costs more than your old one. This was a reality for dozens of people who complained to the FCC about a Michigan-based company that now faces a potential $2.4 million fine.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has filed a Notice of Apparent Liability against the Long Distance Consolidated Billing Company after investigating more than 70 complaints from consumers and state regulators about people who’d found their long-distance service provider had been switched to LDCB.

A number of customers say that LDCB’s telemarketers pretended to represent the customer’s current telephone company when they made their sales pitch.

“I received a call from a gentleman who posed as a representative of AT&T,” says one complainant. “He said that I needed to go through the phone verification process for my long distance phone service. Then, he connected me with the service to record my responses. When I did not hear AT&T in the recording, I stopped the process and was reconnected with the gentleman who had initially called me. He reassured me that, even though the name wasn’t AT&T, that it really was AT&T that was being represented, just trust him.”

Others said they were told the caller was employed by CenturyLink, Cox, and Verizon, according to the FCC.

This sort of trickery is a violation of Section 201(b) of the Communications Act, as the FCC contends that misrepresenting facts about a carrier’s identity to obtain a consumer’s authorization to change service constitutes an unjust and unreasonable practice.

In addition to lying about their employer, the telemarketers for LDCB also allegedly misled consumers by providing false information about their service.

On complainant says someone claiming to be from Verizon told him they needed to correct an error his phone bill.

“They stated that we had an overcharge on our Verizon account of 13 cents per minute and it should be 5 cents per minute on our long distance calls,” he writes.

Some customers who were misled into switching to LDCB with the promise of cheaper plans, only to find out they were more expensive than their previous provider, found they were unable to switch back to their older, less-expensive plans.

“The record shows that these were not mere errors by LDCB and its agent whereby the Company mistakenly verified the carrier switch with someone who was not authorized to make the switch or the result of a miscommunication with a consumer,” reads the FCC notice. “Instead, the record establishes intentional misconduct where LDCB, through its telemarketers, pretended to call from the consumer’s own carrier.”

The FCC said it could find no evidence demonstrating that any of the complainants had any interest in actually changing providers. Additionally, LDCB failed to show that its telemarketers did not mislead customers about their affiliation with the current provider.

Switching a consumer’s toll phone service to a new provider without permission is a violation of the Communications Act and federal telecom rules.

And since the switch to the new company was not authorized, any charges on your bill from those companies now counts as bill-cramming — the practice of placing unauthorized charges on a customer’s phone bill — another violation of the Communication Act.

The FCC notice proposes that LDCB be charged with a $2.4 million penalty for its alleged bad deeds.

“It is unacceptable for any company to pad unauthorized charges on bills or trick consumers into changing their preferred phone company,” said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau. “The FCC will not tolerate companies that deceive consumers into changing their telephone services or carriers.”