April 12, 2000

Many visitors to Web-based "adult" sites are getting some unpleasant news in their long-distance bills lately. AT&T; warns that X-rated Web sites are tricking unwary consumers into running up long-distance bills of several hundred dollars or more.

Here's how it works: The site lures visitors with free previews of steamy pics, then throws up a disclaimer that, somewhere in the fine print, warns that if the visitor click "yes," his computer modem will hang up and redial a special number. In a variation on the scheme, the victim gets an email with a software attachment promising free access to a steamy site. In either case, the consumer's modem dials a number in Chad or any of a number of other offshore locales, at a cost of $7 per minute or more.

Want more bad news? As far as AT&T; and other long-distance companies are concerned, this is not fraudulent and they're not about to cancel the charges. The user made the call voluntarily, after all.

It's highly likely this particular scam will also spread to other types of sites, possibly including financial tip and chat sites, work-at-home-sites, gambling sites and others which tend to attract consumers who may not be fully alert to the possibility of fraud.

AT&T also suggests parents closely monitor their children's use of the computer.

We're heard from many victims of this scam, including ...

Michael of Vero Beach, FL, writes:

I have been on-line to adult sites that all have said 100% free sites. I have read the disclaimers fully and there were no charges listed! I went through this before with AT&T and they said that the adult sites are international calls and that the bill was $760.00. I sent them $460.00 and my wife told AT&T to put an international block on our phone.

Now I thought these sites were free but I got a bill for $2200.00. I have never been into porn before and I am definitely finished with it now! at&t; has caused a tremendous hardship on me as well as my family economically and emotionally. I know that there are a lot of people who have made the same mistake. Please will someone help us?

Unfortunately, there's nothing anyone can do. The perpetrators are the foreign Web sites.

Mark of Tempe, AZ, writes:

I noticed a charge from Chad, Africa, on my phone bill and called AT&T to file a dispute. I spoke to a rep and was told this $42.35 would be credited and she gave me a confirmation. After two months and no credit, I called and was told the adjustment had been denied.

Now they're telling me it was some adult web site? It doesn't matter, I have not authorized this amount and have never been billed by any 'adult site' in the past nor will I be in the future. To accuse me of this is an insult to my strong religious beliefs.