Bamboozled: Disconnect phone slammers

Want a lower telephone bill?

Of course you do. We all do.

But when an offer for cheaper service came via a telephone call to Janet Goldstein of North Brunswick, something didn’t sound right.

“The woman said that next month, the cost of our telephone service would be 40 percent lower and that we would receive local and long-distance calling for $19.99 instead of the $48.99 which we were now paying,” Goldstein said.

“Then she asked me if I was a Verizon customer and I said yes,” she said.

The caller never identified herself as a Verizon rep, or as a rep from any other company, for that matter.

“It certainly sounded like she was from Verizon,” said Goldstein, 66, noting her number is on the national “Do Not Call” registry, so she wasn’t expecting a telemarketing call. “If she was calling from Verizon, she would not have to ask if I was a Verizon customer. Why would anyone else be calling about landline service?”

Because slamming is back, that’s why.

Slamming is the illegal practice of swapping a consumer’s telephone service company without permission. Slammers sometimes get their victims through trickery, such as adding consent for a switch to the fine print of a promotional offer or coupon, while others simply deceive potential marks with telephone calls, calls very much like the one Goldstein received.

But Goldstein is no mark. She and her husband Bernard, 72, were suspicious before the call was completed.

Bernard retrieved the telephone number from the phone’s memory — (800) 690-9950 — and their Caller ID showed the same number had called several times before. Goldstein contacted Verizon to report her suspicions. Verizon said no one had tried to switch the couple’s service yet, and it would institute a block so no one could change their service without the Goldstein’s authorization.

The Verizon rep also identified the company on the other side of the slamming telephone call: Cordia Communications.


Who is Cordia?

That’s a question Bamboozled has been unable to answer, despite messages left at four toll-free numbers and two e-mail addresses.

The website boasts, “From a single home phone line to comprehensive business solutions, Cordia Communications connects you to the world.”

But it can’t seem to connect Bamboozled with someone who can comment on the company’s behalf.

None of our messages were returned.

So far in 2011, there were six complaints against Cordia on record with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Half were resolved in the consumer’s favor, and half in favor of the company.

There have been six slamming complaints lodged against Cordia with the state’s Bureau of Public Utilities since Jan. 1, 2010.

“Upon investigation, there were no slamming violations found,” said BPU spokesman Greg Reinert. “Cordia was able to provide proof of customer consent. Phone calls are recorded.”

(Hmmm. See tip No. 3, below.)

Slamming has fallen by the wayside over the past decade, noted Tom MacGuire, senior vice president for national operations for Verizon, the Goldstein’s carrier. But as consumers in this economy look for ways to cut costs, he said, disreputable companies see an opportunity.

“It’s like anybody else in a predatory relationship,” MacGuire said. “These guys are taking advantage of someone looking for a better deal, and who doesn’t want a better deal? I think the whole practice is rather disgusting.”

Cordia is nothing if not persistent.

Two days after the Goldsteins’ requested their number be blocked, they continued to receive calls.

The phone rang yet again on Aug. 16, Janet Goldstein said, and it was the same Cordia rep with the same pitch. Goldstein told her not to call again.

“I contacted Bamboozled because I feel that this is some sort of scam,” she said. “If they were a legitimate company selling a legitimate service, they would say who they are and what the benefits of their service are. But they don’t do this.”


Here are tips to avoid getting slammed, courtesy of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Consumer League.

1. Don’t return calls to numbers that you don’t recognize. You could be calling a number that results in switching your phone service.

2. Be wary of unsolicited offers. Calls that offer to lower your phone costs should be suspect.

3. Sometimes slammers create phony verification that customers agreed to switch. For example, someone posing as a rep from your telephone company may ask if you are satisfied with your service or if you’re interested in a new discount plan. A “yes” answer could be tape-recorded and used as proof that you agreed to switch. Also be wary of telephone surveys about your telephone service, which can be telemarketing in disguise. If you say “yes” to any of the surveyor’s questions, the answers may be taped and used later as verification of your agreement to switch your service.

4. Read the fine print. Contest entry forms, coupons or other promotional materials might include an agreement to switch your phone service. Federal law requires that written agreements to change phone service must be separate documents and not part of a prize package. If the company offers a monetary check to get you to switch, the check must state clearly on the front and on the back, in the signature area, that you agree to change your service.

5. Check your phone bill carefully. If you notice a new company name, call the number and ask for an explanation.

6. Ask your local telephone company about to freeze or block your phone service to prevent it from being switched unless you confirm directly that you’ve agreed to a change.


Start by calling the slamming company and tell it that you want service switched back. Next, call your regular company and tell it about the slam. Ask to be placed on your old calling plan and say that you want all charges from the slammer removed from your bill.

Under FCC rules, you don’t have to pay for the first 30 days of the slammer’s service. If you’ve already paid a slammer’s charges, the company must pay your authorized company 150 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Out of this amount, your authorized company will reimburse you 50 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company, the FCC says. Alternatively, you can ask your authorized company to recalculate and resend your bill using its rates instead of the slamming company’s rates.

Then, make sure you file a complaint the Bureau of Public Utilities (BPU): call (800) 624-0241 or visit New Jersey complaints that go to the FCC (888-CALL-FCC or will be passed down to BPU.

And drop a note to Bamboozled, too.