Attorney General Hardy Myers today continued his campaign against slamming by filing settlement agreements with four out-of-state long distance resellers and urging the Legislature to pass improvements on Oregon law prohibiting the practice. Slamming is the term used to describe a switch in long-distance carriers that takes place without a consumer's consent. It was the number one complaint category on the Attorney General's top ten consumer complaint list.
Named in the four Assurances of Voluntary Compliance, filed today in Marion County Circuit Court, are Least Cost Routing (LCR) of Santa Ana, California; Vista Group International of West Lake, Ohio; LDC Telecommunications of Clearwater, Florida and LCI International, which was recently purchased by Qwest of Arlington, Virginia. The defendants admit no violation of law in the assurances.
"We have filed more than a dozen agreements with slammers and have many other companies under investigation," Myers said. "None the less, tougher laws at both the state and federal levels will better enable the state to stop this outrageous activity."
Under the terms of the assurances, the four companies agreed to reimburse victims for monies lost and not violate the Unlawful Trade Practices Act. LCR, whose slamming activity cost more than 160 Oregon victims an average of $82.75 each, is out-of-business in the state and paid $25,000 to the Department of Justice consumer protection education account.
LDC Telecommunications entered into a 1997 agreement for slamming activity in Oregon. However, Department investigators determined that the company unlawfully switched the long distance services of Oregonians in 1998. LDC paid the Department of Justice $7,500 for the 1998 conduct.
Vista Group International, which was investigated in 1997 for slamming, and LCI International each paid $10,000 to the Department's consumer education fund. LCI used the opportunity to win a new car to lure high school and college students into signing up for a free drawing. The application card asked for home phone numbers and included confusing language that directed a change in their parents long-distance phone carriers.
Today, Department of Justice officials will testify before a committee of state legislators concerning amendments to current law. Attorney General Hardy Myers said the changes are intended to reduce slamming by taking the profit out of the practice and to enhance the rights of consumers in the event they are slammed.
The proposed amendments in HB 2576 include 30 days free service and $200 minimum damages for consumers and businesses who are slammed. The proposal also includes giving the Public Utility Commissioner authority to make new rules to resolve slamming complaints or adopt national slamming rules that may be adopted by the Federal Communications Commission. Other changes include the prohibition of combining offers to change long distance service with sweepstakes entry forms.
Attorney General Myers urges consumers and businesses to protect themselves from illegal slamming by carefully examining all mail solicitations for any changes in telephone long-distance services and their phone bills.
Consumers should contest charges by slamming companies. If the carrier will not drop the charges, file a complaint with the Attorney General's consumer protection office. To make sure slamming doesn't recur, consumers may contact their telephone company and request a "pic freeze." This action most often prevents switching of services without written permission from the customer.
Oregonians wanting more information on slamming and cramming, the practice of placing unauthorized charges on phone bills, may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 or (503) 229-5576 (Portland only) Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to noon or write Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection, 1162 Court Street N.E., Salem, Oregon 97310.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) firstname.lastname@example.org