February 18, 2001
Officials in Southern California are looking into complaitns from hundreds of consumers who got stuck with large phone bills after accepting collect calls from imposters who claimed to be their relatives.

The Los Angeles Times reported that more than 500 persons have called the offices of Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Anaheim), who called it "the perfect crime."

"You go to Mexico, get the Southern California white pages and start dialing away," Correa told the Times.

The California Attorney General's Office and the Federal Communications Commission said they were also looking into the complaints, although a spokesman for the Attorney General said the probe was still in the early stages.

The complaints echo those made earlier to ConsumerAffairs.com. In most cases, an operator calls and announces a collect call from someone with the same last name. The recipient assumes the caller is a relative and takes the call. After talking briefly the recipient hangs up but by then, the call has been billed at rates of $11 per minute or more. In some instances, the recipient refuses the call but is charged anyway.

The calls show up on the recipient's bill as "billed by Zero Plus Dialing Inc. (ZPDI)."

ZPDI Chief Operating Office Jacquelene Mitchell told the Times the complaints about her company were unfounded, saying ZPDI is only a billing agent. Mitchell said the carrier in some instances was OCI, Oncor Communications of Dallas, which operates pay telephones in Mexico and elsewhere.

An Oncor spokesman said the company has shut off pay phones in Tijuana, where most of the calls originated. The pay phones are privately owned and are placed at stores and other businesses that make a commission from each call.

Oncor said it charges $57 for a call that lasts up to five minutes and then charges for each minute thereafter.