This is a slightly-rewritten consolidation of two articles by the Ohio Consumers' Counsel; their text is used with permission.
Slamming occurs when your long distance carrier is changed without your knowledge or permission. I believe this bit of very old telecom slang comes from the fact that you've been "slammed" with a bill from an unwanted, unexpected company. A more recent variation of this, domain slamming, involves internet registry companies tricking you into changing registrars.
Telephone slamming is ranked at the 5th most commonly-reported form of telecom fraud by the National Consumers League, and some studies suggest it costs U.S. consumers upwards of $100 million per year.
Federal rules make it illegal for a company to switch your long distance service without a signed authorization form from you (check with your local Public Utility Commission or consumer rights agency to find out what state rules apply to slamming). Most consumers who are slammed do not realize it until they receive their next telephone bill.
Slamming can happen many ways. Slamming offers are often disguised as surveys or consumer incentives like bonus checks, free minutes, raffle or sweepstakes entries and other contests. If you receive an offer in the mail, be sure you read all the fine print before returning the authorization form.
Another way slamming can happen is by receiving a call from a telemarketer who is selling long distance service. If this happens, be careful of how you answer their questions. Make sure you know what you are responding to before you answer "yes" or "no." Ask questions before you agree to change your long distance company. Tell the caller to send you written material about the offer so you can verify the details.
(Noder's note: Sometimes, if the telemarketer can record your voice saying "yes" to a totally unrelated question like verifying your name, they will tamper with the recording and use that as a way to slam you. This happened to me a few years back, but fortunately I'd put a "block" on my account so that my provider could not be changed without my written signature. There's so much money to be made that many dodgy outfits will use all manner of deception to slam you.)
Slamming frequently occurs when a company calls and offers to consolidate all of your telephone services on one bill. However, most consumers already receive one bill from their local telephone company.
How to avoid being slammed
- Never sign anything without reading it carefully. Do not sign/cash bonus checks or fill out contest entry cards without reading the fine print.
- If you have not changed services but receive a notice verifying a switch, inform the sender that you did not authorize it.
- Read your phone bill carefully every month. If you see any unfamiliar names or charges, call the company issuing the charges or call your local telephone company.
- Call your local telephone company and ask that a primary interexchange carrier (PIC) freeze or block be placed on your account to avoid being switched without your knowledge. The telephone company will provide this service free of charge. This is the single best way to avoid a slam.
- If you do not know who your long distance company is, here's a way to find out in the United States: Dial 1-700-555-4141. To check your local toll provider, dial 1, plus your area code, then 700-4141. Recorded messages will tell you who your long distance or local toll company is. Both of these calls are free.
What to do if you have been slammed
Call your local telephone company immediately and notify their customer service representative that you did not authorize the switching of your service and ask to be returned to your original carrier. You are not required to pay any fees associated with switching back to your original telephone company. If the slamming involves long-distance service, also call your long-distance company and make them aware of the slamming. Ask the company to make sure your account is in order and that you will not be penalized with charges resulting from being switched.
The FCC issued new slamming rules effective November 28, 2000. Once a slamming complaint has been verified by the FCC or by your state's public utility commission, consumers who paid the unauthorized carrier are guaranteed compensation. Consumers who have been slammed and have not paid the unauthorized carrier, but who have not got documentation for the fraudulent nature of the transaction, will not be responsible for paying for service for up to 30 days after the slam occurred.
In situations where consumers who have been slammed have paid the unauthorized carrier, the rules require the unauthorized carrier to pay 150% of all charges to your authorized carrier, which in turn is responsible for reimbursing you 50% of what you paid.
For example, if you paid the unauthorized carrier $50, the unauthorized carrier would be required to pay your authorized carrier $75. Then your authorized carrier would pay you $25. To report an unauthorized carrier, or if you think you’ve been slammed, you can call the FCC at 1-888-225-5322 (toll free).
ObCitation: The Ohio Consumers' Counsel is the residential utility advocacy agency for Ohio; their site is at http://www.pickocc.org/