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Slamming complaints double from '97 to '98

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Slamming, the unauthorized, and illegal, switching of a customer's telecommunications service without their knowledge or permission, is not going away.

In fact, far from it, according to a news release from Southwestern Bell.

Last year, Southwestern Bell handled nearly 558,000 long-distance slamming complaints in its five-state region, an increase of 50 percent from 1996.

In January of 1998 alone, there were 54,000 disputes, compared to 22,600 complaints in January 1997. In Missouri alone, there were 5,900 complaints about slamming in January of this year, compared to 3,500 during the same period in 1997, according to the release.

In addition to long-distance service slamming, Southwestern Bell reports it began handling hundreds of complaints last year from customers whose local service was switched without their knowledge or consent.

In response to the growth of slamming, Bell has launched a public service advertising campaign, and has added anti-slamming information and tips to its directories' white pages. Bell has been offering its "Hang Up on Slamming" educational campaign, in conjunction with local Better Business Bureaus and consumer advocates, such as the Missouri attorney general's office.

Bell customers who think they have been slammed or want more information may call 800-585-SWBT business customers, 800-559-SWBT for assistance.

Bell can also provide a form that requires the customer's written authorization before changes can be made to his or her account.

Slamming Prevention

?Read your telephone bill carefully, watching for changes to your service. If your long-distance service has been switched, a switching charge of $5 or $6 will appear on the bill, along with the name of the new provider.

?Ask questions. If a long-distance provider contacts you to change your service, ask questions to be sure you know what is being offered. Also, get the person's name, address and phone number.

?Educate family members and office staff. Decide who is authorized to make telecom decisions and communicate this to everyone in the home or office. Slammers often target children, baby-sitters, housekeepers, receptionists and other unsuspecting people.

?Read the fine print. Contests, promotions and sweepstakes can result in slamming in cases where contest "entry" forms double as forms authorizing a provider to switch your service.

?Check rates. Beware of companies that claim to save you money by "dialing around" your current long-distance company. Some dial-around companies will keep charging you a monthly fee through your phone bill, which may be authorized, even if you use the service only once. Many customers mistakenly believe these charges represent "slams."

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