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Need Tech Support? Don’t Dial 1-800-TWITTER (Unless You’re Really Into Heavy Breathing)

Over the past 13 years, a little-known company has been quietly buying up new or abandoned 1-800 telephone numbers in the USA and Canada, and has now gained control of some 1.7 million, many of which are household names.

The catch? 1-800 is meant to be a toll free call, but many of these numbers are now redirecting innocent callers to a $2.99/minute phone sex line. And one of them is 1-800-TWITTER.

Founded in 1995, PrimeTel Communications is based in Philadelphia and is one of about 400 companies registered as toll-free service providers for the US and Canada.

PrimeTel now administers more 800 numbers than any other company, including giants Verizon and AT&T. They also hold a dominant position with other toll-free codes such as 888 and 866, controlling millions of numbers overall.

These include 1-800-TWITTER, as well as 1-800-FACEBOOK, 1-800-ANDROID, 1-800-NETFLIX, 1-800-HOTMAIL, 1-800-METALLICA, 1-800-CHICAGO and even 1-800-WORSHIP.

Call these numbers and you could be transferred to a recording of a couple of giggling ‘lovelies’ instead.

“We both have big appetites for sex,” the recording says. “Pinch us and poke us. Spank us and tease us. We love it all. Enter your credit card number now.”

Quite. While it’s certainly pretty sleazy, what PrimeTel is doing isn’t illegal. Using toll-free numbers to promote adult services isn’t against the law in the States, and callers aren’t charged unless they supply their credit card information. And I’m not sure how well random calls to phone sex lines convert. But as each of these numbers costs PrimeTel just 10 cents a month to manage, well… you do the math.

Hoarding numbers is against FCC regulations, which means that PrimeTel hasn’t escaped the attention of federal authorities. While they’ve never taken formal action, last year the FCC sent subpoenas to several companies that manage toll-free numbers, including PrimeTel, asking for information on how and why they’re acquiring so many of these numbers.

Netflix VP of corporate communications Steve Swasey reached out to Paul McNamara at Network World to say that Netflix was aware of the issue.

“No one complains. The same thing happened to me when I called the wrong number for Southwest Airlines. We publish this number on the Netflix Web site for Customer Service: 1-866-716-0414.”

It’s unclear if Twitter, Facebook and the other companies on PrimeTel’s books have taken any legal action against the firm. I’m not sure how often these toll-free numbers are used by everyday people in the States, so measuring any damage to the brands involved is hard to gauge. It could be that they’re used so rarely that a complicated investigation and lawsuit might not be worth the expense.

But, illegal or not, there’s something about this that makes the skin crawl. I’m not against phone sex lines per se – different strokes, and all that (snigger) – but at least have the common decency to be upfront about it.

(Sources: Associated Press, NetworkWorld.com)

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