“Slamming” is the unlawful and unauthorized switching of a consumer’s preferred long-distance carrier. You have the freedom to choose any long-distance carrier, calling plan, and service features. Your options are taken away when you are slammed.

How Does Slamming Occur?

Although slamming may result from a mistake, it often happens when a phone company tricks you into signing up for different services. Tactics include checks or contest entry forms with fine print or telemarketers making incoherent offers.

How Can a Company Change My Local or Long Distance Provider Without My Consent?

Crooked telephone companies can use several tactics to change your provider. Long-distance companies might enforce an unauthorized switch by submitting a fraudulent change order to a local telephone company. Companies may try to fool you by concealing that they are asking you to change your telephone service provider by using incoherent language, contending that they are associated with your existing provider, or suggesting that you agree to a lower price rather than a new service provider.

Likewise, a consumer can unknowingly and inadvertently cause a change of local or long distance provider by responding to a survey or a notice of a “free” gift, only to discover later that the fine print on the bottom or the back of the gift said that answer would result in a change of providers.

What Is An Informal Slamming Process?

Under the informal procedure, the customer and the company that started the change may arrange mutually acceptable terms to settle the complaint. Under the informal resolution process, the company cannot be subject to a fine. If you select the informal procedure, the company that initiated your service change will contact you directly.

If the company has not contacted you within 30 days from the date you return your complaint form to your state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, please call the Consumer Division so that they can follow up with the company and ensure that it processes your complaint promptly.

The terms of the agreement must be signed by both parties and filed with your state’s Consumer Division of the Department. If mutually acceptable terms are not submitted within 90 days from the consumer’s election of the informal procedure, or if the Department determines that the filed and negotiated resolution is unacceptable, the complaint will be processed under the formal procedure.

How Can I Protect Myself Against Slamming?

You can protect yourself against slamming by:

  • Always examining your telephone bill immediately and thoroughly: If you see a new telephone company name on your bill, call the number shown on that part of the bill and ask for an explanation.
  • Being aware of telephone companies’ methods to legally change your authorized telephone company: The FCC’s rules require telephone companies to obtain explicit permission to make such a change. The rules also prohibit companies or telemarketers from misrepresenting their service on a sales call.
  • Asking your local telephone company to place a “freeze” on your account: This keeps anyone other than you from changing your authorized telephone company selection.

What Should I Do If I Have Been Slammed?

If your authorized telephone company has been switched without your permission:

  • Call the slamming company and tell it that you want the issue fixed and that, under FCC regulations, you don’t have to pay for the first 30 days of its service.
  • Call your authorized company to inform it of the slam and that you want to be switched back with the exact calling plan you had before the slam.
  • Likewise, tell your authorized local telephone company that you want all charges for switching companies removed from your bill.

If you have been slammed but HAVE NOT paid the bill of the slamming company, you DO NOT have to pay the slamming company for up to 30 days after being slammed. You also do not have to pay your authorized telephone company for any charges for up to 30 days. After 30 days, you must pay your authorized company for service, but at its rates, not the slammer’s rates.

If you have been slammed but discover it after you HAVE paid the bill of the slamming company, the slamming company must pay your authorized company 150 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Your authorized company will refund you 50 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company out of this payment. Or, you can ask your authorized company to recalculate and resend your bill using its rates instead of the slamming company’s rates.

What Are Authorized Switching Methods?

Your telephone service cannot lawfully be switched from your current authorized telephone company to a new company unless the new company verifies the switch by one of the following methods:

  • Using an independent third party to confirm your oral authorization to switch
  • Getting your signature on a letter that shows, in writing, that you want to switch authorized telephone companies
  • Providing a toll-free number that you can call to confirm the order to switch authorized telephone companies

Filing a Slamming Complaint

Suppose you live in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, or the Virgin Islands. In that case, you can file a slamming complaint with the FCC.

The FCC asks that you include a copy of any telephone bill you complain about and to indicate on the copy of the bill the name of the slamming telephone company and the disputed charges.

In all other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, public service commissions handle the processing of slamming complaints from within those jurisdictions. If you live in a state or territory that processes slamming complaints, check the website of your public service commission for details on filing a complaint.

What Are the Federal Protections Against Slamming?

The FCC authorizes you to file a complaint if you have been slammed and takes the profit from slamming telephone companies. Before a telemarketing company can place an order to switch a customer’s telephone service, the company must use one of the ensuing methods to confirm the authorized switch:

  • Get a written or electronic Letter of Agency (LOA) from the customer containing specific information about the switch. Advertising promotions using checks are allowed but must meet strict guidelines.
  • Provide a toll-free number that the consumer can call to confirm the order to switch telephone companies.
  • Have an independent third party verify the customer’s authorization to switch.

What Are State Law Protections Against Slamming?

Some states have statutes and regulations explicitly prohibiting slamming. A lawyer can help you with the laws of your state.

I Think I Have Been Slammed. What Should I Do?

If you think you have been slammed:

  • Contact the unauthorized company to request to fix the issue: If you have not paid the bill, advise the company that you will not pay for the first 30 days of service.
  • Notify your authorized telephone company of the slam: Tell them to reinstate the same calling plan and have them remove the “change of carrier charges.”

You can also file a complaint with the appropriate government agency or contact a lawyer.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you feel that you have been slammed, you may contact the FCC or a relevant state agency. Filing a complaint with a regulatory agency may prevent you from taking legal action and often provides inadequate relief. Suppose you or your business suffered significant financial loss. In that case, a consumer lawyer can assist you with the overlapping federal and state laws involved and can explain all of your legal options.