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CONSUMER BULLETIN No. 02-1

Maine Public Utilities Commission

Consumer Assistance Division

 

 

242 State Street, 18 State House Station, Augusta, ME  04333-0018

Contact:  Derek Davidson (207) 287-1596 or derek.d.davidson@maine.gov

 

 

WHAT CONSUMERS SHOULD KNOW
ABOUT PRE-PAID CALLING CARDS

 

January 3, 2002

 

The Maine Public Utilities Commission advises individuals who use pre-paid calling cards to become familiar with the operation and restrictions of cards they purchase.  This will help customers ensure they are getting the long distance rates they envisioned when they purchased the card.

 

A pre-paid phone card is a card purchased for a set price and used to make long distance phone calls.  These cards are usually sold in dollar amounts or in number of minutes.  Many people use a pre-paid phone card because of the card's convenience–it can be used anywhere, and there is no bill since you pay in advance.  Pre-paid phone cards are popular among travelers, people who frequently call overseas, and those who haven't selected a long-distance provider.  In addition, pre-paid phone cards are sold in a wide range of locations, such as convenience stores, grocery stores, retail stores, and post offices.

 

A toll-free access number and a personal identification number (PIN) are usually printed on each phone card.  To make a phone call, dial the access number and enter the PIN.  An automated voice will ask you to enter the phone number you are trying to call, and tell you how much time you have left on your card.  It might also give you other options, or information on the use of your card.

 

You can add time to some pre-paid phone cards and the added cost can usually be billed to a credit card.  If you cannot add time to your card, you will need to buy a new one once all the time has been used.  Also, pre-paid phone cards often have expiration dates.  Make sure to keep track of the date your card expires so you don't lose unused minutes.

 

As the use of pre-paid phone cards increases, so do the consumer complaints.  Some common complaints include:  cards that provide less calling time than advertised; access numbers or PINs that don't work; service or access numbers that are always busy; card issuers that go out of business, leaving people with useless cards; rates that are higher than advertised, or hidden charges; cards that charge you even when your call does not go through; poor quality connections; and cards that expire without the purchaser's knowledge.

 

To lessen the possibility of problems, make sure you understand the rates for your particular phone card.  Also check the expiration date, look for a toll-free customer service number provided with or on the card, and make sure you understand the instructions on how to use the card.  You may also want to ask your friends and family to recommend cards they have used and liked.

 

If your pre-paid phone card doesn’t work, first try calling the customer service number provided with the card.  Since the Maine Public Utilities Commission generally does not regulate pre‑paid phone cards, your next step would be to contact either the Attorney General’s Consumer Information and Mediation Service at (207) 626-8849 or your local Better Business Bureau to research a company or to file a complaint.  For a listing of Better Business Bureaus, visit http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/crh/bbb.htm, or contact the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-HELP (877/382-4357) or visit www.ftc.gov.

 

For more information on using prepaid calling cards, please call the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s Consumer Assistance Hotline at (800) 452-4699.

Maine PUC Website: http://www.maine.gov/mpuc/