Consumers have informed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they have been billed for international calls that occurred as a result of using local (domestic) Internet service providers to access websites. The FCC is monitoring the situation. There are some precautions you can take to minimize your chances of becoming a victim.
Here’s How It Works
Some websites encourage computer users to download software in order to view certain material. Unknown to that user, the downloaded software disconnects his or her computer’s modem and then reconnects it using an international long distance number. Also, some websites’ pop-up advertisements may install spyware-type programs that initiate the same action on a computer modem, even if the user does not click to accept an offer. The result: the modem may actually be placing a call to places as far away as Chad, Madagascar, Vanuatu or other countries, and the computer user may be billed for an international call.
IMPORTANT: Don’t download programs from the Internet without reading the disclosures. Some websites may be advertised as “free and uncensored” or may allow information to be downloaded. However, a pop-up window with a disclaimer should appear. The disclaimer usually reveals information on possible charges or the rerouting of the website. It may say, “you will be disconnected from your local Internet access number and reconnected to an international location” (which may be Chad, Madagascar, Vanuatu or some other country). It is important that consumers read the disclaimer to learn what charges will be assessed before they click the box. If they still choose to download, consumers should be prepared to receive a phone bill with high international toll charges. There may also be charges from a non-telecommunications company that provides a billing service to the website in question.
To minimize the risk of this happening:
- individuals should ask their local phone company for an INTERNATIONAL BLOCK on their computer line;
- individuals who acquire broadband Internet access should consider disabling their modems;
- individuals should take advantage of firewalls, virus protection, and anti-spyware programs, and ensure that they have downloaded the latest updates of their operating systems and internet browsers.
Filing a Complaint with the FCC
If you encounter this situation, you can file a complaint with the FCC. There is no charge for filing a complaint. You can file your complaint using an FCC online complaint form.
What to include in your complaint
The best way to provide all the information the FCC needs to process your complaint is to complete the online complaint form in full. When you open the online complaint form, you will be asked a series of questions that will take you to the particular section of the form you need to complete. If you do not use the online complaint form, your complaint should include the following:
- your name, address, email address and phone number where you can be reached;
- the telephone and account numbers that are the subject of your complaint;
- name, phone number, city and state of the company that you are complaining about;
- amount of any disputed charges, whether you paid them, whether you received a refund or adjustment to your bill, the amount of any adjustment or refund you have received, an explanation if the disputed charges are related to services in addition to residential or business telephone services; and
- details of your complaint and any additional relevant information.
You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center utilizing the information below.
Filing a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
If you feel that you are a victim of an international phone scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC online. You can also file a complaint by calling the FTC toll free at 1-877-382-4357 (voice), or 1-866-653-4261 (TTY), or writing to:
Federal Trade Commission
CRC – 240
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580.
For More Information
For information about this and other communications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer website, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
Modem Redialing Guide (pdf)