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Avoiding 900 Phone Scams

If you’ve ever been surprised to find unwanted charges for calls to 900 numbers or other services, there are steps you can take to protect yourself, according to Ameritech (NYSE: AIT).

The 900 services industry continues to grow and is expected to reach $1 billion by next year. While some services offer helpful information, others provide sexually explicit or inflammatory material. The calls can be expensive, too — as much as $4.00 to $5.00 per minute.

“Charges for these services can build quickly — before you know it, you could have a very expensive bill on your hands,” said Dean Caselli, customer service manager at Ameritech. “We want to educate consumers, especially parents, about these services, so they know how to protect themselves.”

Raising the ire of consumers are some of the tactics service providers are using to lure callers. Some companies have tricked customers into calling by leaving them urgent voice mails, pages, even e-mails, about a prize or family emergency, and urging them to call a 900, 800 or a domestic or international long distance number, at which point they’re solicited or charged for services.

“We receive numerous calls about these services,” said Sandra Abraham, director of operations at the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin. “We urge consumers to get 900 blocking and set clear limits on calls to avert potential problems before they happen.”

Here’s what consumers should know:

— If you want to block 900 calls completely, get 900 call blocking from Ameritech (or your local phone company). The service is free the first time you sign up and it will prevent 900 calls from your phone. Remember that with the blocking in place, you won’t have access to legitimate 900 services. Ameritech customers should call 1-800-924-1000 to order 900 call blocking.

— If you decide to use a 900 service, be sure you know the cost of the call and the nature of the service. Federal regulations require service providers to disclose the costs of their services.

— Read your phone bill carefully and be on the lookout for any unfamiliar charges. Call the long distance company that carried the calls — it will be indicated on your bill — or Ameritech within 60 days of the bill’s issue date if you want to dispute the charges. Ameritech can assist customers in investigating the charges.

— Set clear rules in your home for the use of 900 or other services. Make sure your kids, the baby-sitter and others in your home understand the rules. If someone in your home calls these services, the charges are considered legitimate.

— If you’re calling an 800 number for a service, don’t expect a free call. You’ll probably be asked for a charge card number or some other means to bill services. Also, beware of requests to dial “activation” numbers that will link you to 900 or international numbers.

— If you call an 800, domestic or international long distance number, you may be asked to enter a subscription arrangement, where services are billed to a prepaid account or credit card. Don’t enter these arrangements unless you’re absolutely certain you want access to the services provided and you know the costs.

— Beware of pages, voice mails, e-mails or postcards urging you to call about a family emergency or a prize. Be especially careful if the call back number is to an unfamiliar area code — it may turn out to be an international number in the Caribbean. Unlike most international calls, calls to the Caribbean are dialed like long distance calls in the United States. Caribbean area codes linked to scams include 809 in the Dominican Republic, 758 in St. Lucia and 664 in Montserrat.

Ameritech serves millions of customers in 50 states and 40 countries. Ameritech provides a full range of communications services, including local and long distance telephone, cellular, paging, security monitoring, cable TV, electronic commerce, on-line services and more. One of the world’s 100 largest companies, Ameritech (http://www.ameritech.com) has 66,000 employees, 1 million shareowners and $24 billion in assets.

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