FCC prepares to fine Colorado long-distance company $3.9M over questionable billing practices

Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Central Telecom Long Distance is facing a $3.9 million fine from the FCC for allegedly preying on elderly and disabled consumers to switch their long-distance service, billing customers for unauthorized charges and not being able to justify charges on customers' bills.

Telemarketers working for Central Telecom allegedly tricked consumers into believing that the telemarketers were calling on behalf of the consumers' existing telephone companies, then changed the consumers' preferred carriers without their permission, otherwise known as "slamming."

The FCC added that Central violated the regulator's "truth-in-billing rules" by failing to clearly and plainly describe the charges on its customers' phone bills.  

According to the consumers that filed complaints, Central attempted to switch their current or existing long distance carrier such as AT&T (NYSE: T) or CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) after obtaining and recording their authorization. Most of the consumers said in their complaints to the regulator that they did not know Central Telecom or did not mean to subscribe to their services.

A number of times Central and its telemarketers apparently worked to exploit elderly or disabled consumers' confusion and inability to understand the sales pitch they heard and the questions they were asked, according to the FCC. One complaint was filed on behalf of a deceased elderly grandmother whom Central continued to bill for months after she died and even after her telephone was disconnected.

Instances of slamming are hardly isolated to Central Telecom. Qwest, now CenturyLink, had to pay a $1.5 million fine to the FCC to resolve slamming complaints back in 2000.

For more:
- see the release
- see this FCC filing (.pdf)

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