How to Protect Yourself: Dial-A-Porn
What is Dial-A-Porn?
Dial-a-porn is the name commonly used when talking about sexual telephone conversations that are offered, either live or recorded, for a fee. The fee may be a per-minute charge or a flat fee. The charges for these services usually appear on your local telephone bill (sometimes as an international long distance call). People frequently associate dial-a-porn with the prefix 900 or 976 but many dial-a-porn numbers use international or 800 prefixes that are then transferred to an international number. Fees for these services can be extremely expensive.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all telephone companies that are involved in pay-per-call services when calls are made from one state to another. The FCC rules provide that the following guidelines must be observed:
- All state-to-state pay-per-call services must be provided through a 900 number unless the service and the caller have entered into a pre-subscription agreement allowing the service to charge the caller or bill their credit card;
- Local or long distance telephone companies cannot disconnect services for failure to pay 900 number charges;
- Local telephone companies must offer the option of blocking access to 900 number services, if feasible;
- Toll-free numbers such as 800 or 888 may not be used to directly connect a caller to a 900 number or other pay-per call service unless the caller has entered into a pre subscription or uses a credit card;
- Toll-free numbers such as 800 or 888 may not be used to initiate a collect call back to the caller unless it is for the regular long distance fee.
The Florida Public Service Commission is responsible for regulating telephone companies in the State of Florida.
Why Parents Are Concerned
Children can be exposed to inappropriate subject matter. Although federal law restricts access of indecent communication to minors, many children call dial-a-porn numbers. These numbers are readily available to children because they are advertised on TV, radio, the Internet, in newspapers and magazines and even passed around at school.
Outrageously expensive phone bills can add up. Parents can be stuck paying for phone charges that their children have made. Some dial-a-porn services charge $4.99 per minute. If the call is to an international number, you will also have international charges.
Is Dial-A-Porn Legal?
Yes, these services are generally dial-a-porn is legal. In 1988, Congress passed a law that completely banned dial-a-porn. In 1989, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Sable Communications of California v. FCC, 492 U.S. 115 (1989), declared the complete ban on dial-a-porn to be unconstitutional. Although the Government has a legitimate interest in protecting children from exposure to indecent dial-a-porn messages, it must do it without unnecessarily interfering with the First Amendment. Dial-a-Porn is regulated by federal law 47 USC §§ 223.
How Can I Protect My Home From Dial-A-Porn?
Consumers can block access to 900 and 976 number..
Ask your long distance provider to block your telephone line so no 900 or 976 numbers can be called from it. Caution: Blocking 900 and 976 numbers does not entirely prevent the use of dial-a-porn numbers. Dial-a-porn services may use 800 numbers, then have the caller choose to have the call transferred to a per-charge number, or they may call back collect. Transferring to a 900 number or initiating a collect call back is a violation of the FCC and FTC rules, but some services still use these techniques. Not only can your children gain access to inappropriate material by calling these 800 numbers but they can also incur a phone bill while doing so. If this happens to you, you should file a complaint with the FCC.
Consumers can block international calls.
Ask your long distance provider to block your telephone line so international calls cannot be made from it. International services may unlawfully use an 800 number that is toll-free but then direct the caller to enter an access code to continue. The code transfers the call to an international long distance call billed at high rates. The caller may not even be aware that the call was transferred and is no longer toll-free. If this happens to you, you should file a complaint with the FCC because this is generally a violation of FCC regulations.
Caution: Blocking will only stop the calls made through your long distance company. If the individual uses a 10-10-number or calling card that doesn’t use your long distance company, the call may not be blocked.
Consumers can use a calling card for long distance and international phone calls.
National and international calling cards allow their customers to make calls anywhere in the world from any phone. With these cards it is not necessary to subscribe to a long distance provider at your home. Consequently, your children will not be able to make direct international phone calls from your home.
Parents should talk to their children.
Talk to your children about dial-a-porn. Explain your standards and how much these calls cost.
What Can I Do About Unauthorized Dial-A-Porn Charges On My Phone Bill?
- If possible, find out who made the calls.
- Contact the billing company listed on your phone bill. All phone bills must contain a phone number to call about the pay-per call charges. Ask the company to explain the charges, then explain that the call was unauthorized (i.e. made by your child who is a minor) and request that the charge be removed from your bill. Most companies will remove the charge the first time.
- If the charges are not removed, follow the instructions given on your bill on how to challenge the charges. Generally this means you have to write a letter disputing the charges on the bill and send it to the company within 60 days from the date the first phone bill containing the disputed charges was sent to you.
- Federal law prevents your local and long distance carrier from disconnecting your telephone service for nonpayment of 900 number charges made within the United States if you have challenged the charges in writing within 60 days. After reviewing your challenge, the company must notify you of their decision. If they refuse to remove the charges, and you still do not pay the bill, they can terminate your service.
- Keep a copy of the bill.
- Expect to hear from a collection agency or the dial-a-porn company. Be polite and tell them the calls were unauthorized (i.e. made by a minor). The dial-a-porn company has the right to sue you for the bill. It will be up to the court to decide if the company took reasonable steps, as required by law, to ensure they were not providing services to a minor. The company may submit a claim on your credit record. If it does, submit a letter of explanation to add to your credit record.
- File a complaint. Your complaint letter should include the following information:
- Name, address and telephone number where you can be reached during the business day;
- The telephone number involved with the complaint;
- As much specific information about the complaint as possible;
- A description of the steps taken by you to resolve the complaint yourself;
- The names of all companies associated with the disputed charges (i.e. local phone company, long distance provider, dial-a-porn service)
- The names and telephone numbers of the company employees that you talked with, in an effort to resolve the complaint, and the dates that you talked with these employees;
- Copies of bills listing the disputed charges (circle the disputed charges on the copy of the bill); and
- The relief that is being requested (such as adjustment of charges).
- If you file your complaint with more than one agency, address the complaint to all the agencies and give each of them a copy of the letter and the bill.
You may file your complaints for calls made from a local or intrastate service with the following agency:The Florida Public Service Commission
2540 Shumard Oak Blvd.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0850
You may file your complaints for calls made from a 900 or other out-of-state service with the following agency:Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquires & Complaints
Stop Code 1600A2 Washington, D.C. 20554
1-888-225-5322 voice or 1-888-835-5322 TTY
If the call or advertisement for the number is misleading or deceptive, you should file a complaint with the following agency, in addition to the above agency. The FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems, however, your complaint may help them investigate fraud, and can lead to prosecution.Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
FTC toll-free number: 1-877-382-4357
FTC E-mail address for reporting fraud: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: Filing a complaint will not stop the dial-a-porn company from terminating your service or from filing a law suit against you for the outstanding bill. These agencies investigate potential violations of the law.