The Federal Trade Commission is setting up a hotline for consumers who believe they were victims of an alleged Web cramming scam operated by National Online Services, Inc., Liberty Online Services, Inc., B2B Advantage formerly known as SBA Online, Inc., and Ameripages, Inc. a/k/a Amerilinc, Inc.

The FTCs hotline, which will open shortly at 202-326-2998, will advise consumers on what steps to take if they receive a notice from the defendants, and what they should do to obtain a refund.

In October 2003, the FTC sued the defendants and their parent company, Epixtar Corporation, alleging that they deceptively marketed a free, 30-day trial of Internet services to small businesses and non-profit organizations. The FTCs complaint alleged that the defendants crammed a charge of $29.95 per month on the telephone bills of those businesses that did not cancel the service during the trial period, without obtaining consumers permission to bill them. The FTC then obtained a temporary restraining order that froze the defendants assets.

In November 2003, the FTC and the defendants agreed to the terms of a preliminary injunction that (1) prohibited the defendants from making further misrepresentations; (2) required them to notify current customers that they were being billed for a Web service; and (3) required them to permit these consumers to cancel if they never authorized service.

The preliminary injunction also stipulated that some of the frozen funds would be used for refunds for consumers who claimed that the unauthorized charges had been added to their telephone bills. The case is ongoing the injunction will be in effect until the court issues a final ruling on the FTCs allegations.

The FTC advises consumers who have received notices from any of these defendants, stating that they currently are being billed for Internet services, to determine whether they authorized the charges. If not, the FTC recommends that they call the toll-free number listed on the notice and cancel the service. As the case progresses, further refund information will become available.