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

You have multiple options for filing a complaint with the FCC:

  • File a complaint online
  • By phone: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322); ASL: 1-844-432-2275
  • By mail (please include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible):

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

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 at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.  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
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC  20580.

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Modem Redialing Guide (pdf)

Date Last Updated/Reviewed: 
Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 2:15pm