PhotoRemember long distance? Back in the day, you had to pay extra to call out of town. Today, of course, nearly every landline phone has unlimited long-distance calling in the U.S., as do nearly all cell phones.

But there are still some consumers out there who buy a separate long-distance service, even when they don't want to. Using deceptive sales practices is against the Federal Communications Commission's rules and it has come down heavily on violators in recent years.

In the most recent action, the FCC levied $11 million in fines against three related long-distance carriers for “cramming” unauthorized charges onto consumer telephone bills, “slamming” consumers by switching their preferred phone carriers without authorization, deceptive marketing, and violating the FCC’s truth-in-billing rules.

The companies -- Central Telecom Long Distance, Consumer Telcom, and U.S. Telecom Long Distance -- are run as one operation by Data Integration Systems, Inc.

Not rocket science

“This isn’t rocket science: no consumer should be charged for phone services that they canceled or never requested in the first place,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc.  “Today’s fines make clear that we will aggressively prosecute those who ‘slam,’ ‘cram,’ or otherwise abuse consumers by unlawfully charging them for services they didn’t want or request.”

LeBlalnc said the Enforcement Bureau reviewed over 260 consumer complaints about the three California-based companies. In many cases, consumers said they had never heard of the companies. Others said they had not intended to sign up for the services.

Operating as a single enterprise, the companies’ telemarketers falsely claimed that they were calling on behalf of consumers’ real telephone carriers about a change in existing service. The companies then misused consumers’ answers to switch their long distance carriers to one of the companies, the FCC charged.

When customers realized what had occurred and returned to their preferred carriers, the three companies continued to charge them a recurring monthly fee. The companies also failed to clearly and plainly describe the charges included in their customer bills, as required by the FCC’s rules, the agency said.

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