I received a phone call today from someone who said that they were an employee of Cincinnati Bell and that they were calling to tell me that Cincinnati Bell was switching billing providers and that they were required by the FCC and the Federal Privacy Act to inform us and have us agree to the change. That seemed innocent enough. She said that the costs would remain the same and that it was just a different company that would handle the printing and billing of our account.
That seemed plausible to me, but something about this made me feel a little apprehensive about it. It seemed a little strange to me that an internal matter like billing needed to be approved by the customer. I mentioned that to the representative. She agreed that it was a hassle and but that there was a note that was sent out in the last phone bill about the change. She said that most people had not seen the note and that she would be happy to fax me a copy after she got of the phone with me. She also said that Cincinnati Bell was required by the FCC to make this call. I told her that I was concerned about calls like this because I was getting a lot of scam calls offering to list us in "yellow pages" or other services that I don't want that we end up getting billed for. She said that she understood and that as a customer, it was always important to make sure that you were speaking to a Cincinnati Bell employee like she was.
She went on to explain that if I agreed to the new billing company change, my billing costs would remain the same, but would now be processed by NSBI instead of the old company. She said that to make the change I would be asked some simple verification questions by a third party verification service. She said that I would have to answer "yes" to all of them or I would be routed back to another representative to start the process over again.
She said that she would read each question to me now to explain it to me so that I would understand what I was saying "yes" to. The first several questions were basic, over 18, address, and phone number, etc. The last couple of questions were bothersome to me: "Do you understand that NSBI will be adding $14.95 to your bill". She said that I should answer "yes" because the $14.95 charge was something that would be absorbed by Cincinnati Bell and not passed on to me. The last question was "Do you agree that NSBI would handle long distance charges, inter and intra-state calls. She said that "yes" was required because NSBI would be handling the billing for Cincinnati Bell long distance calls.
I was very, very uncomfortable with this but she really sounded official and sympathetic to my concerns. She wasn't a strange voice from an Indian call center and she sought to calm my concerns by saying that she would fax me the information as soon as she transferred me to the verification service.
I agreed and I was transferred to the verification service. At this point I was extremely suspicious and I don't know why I continued to go through with this. Maybe that explains why so many people are taken in by scams. I had seen the red flags, but I only slowed to question them, not to stop.
The guy from the verification service who came on the line said that he was with such and such verification service and that he had some questions to ask. When he got to the phone numbers of my business, he read back my phone and my fax numbers and asked if those were all the numbers I had. I actually have 4 more phone numbers that roll into my main voice line. They would have known that if my numbers were sent to them by Cincinnati Bell. I was very suspicious but once again I didn't stop and answered the questions like I was told to.
Immediately after the call I went to look at my fax machine and there was nothing there. No note from the Cincinnati Bell employee explaining the billing change. I immediately called Cincinnati Bell and talked to one of their business representatives. She told me that no change in billing was happening and that it was probably a scam. She checked my account and told me that I was safe, that I had locked the account down last year against third party billings and portings. Any change to my phone account would have to be authorized by me directly. So, I managed to save me from myself last year! She said that she would report this scam to her supervisor, but that I would be fine.
This was a total con-game. The verification service was legitimate, but the woman who called was a fraud. She almost successfully got me to change my phone service by the way she framed around the questions from the verification service. Afterwards, I realized that she also managed to get an additional number to slam, my fax number that I had given her to fax me the billing company change information. It was a very smooth job and pretty sophisticated. I'd like to think that I'm smart enough not to get scammed, but this came pretty darn close.
The lessons that I learned from today:
1. Never agree to say "yes" to anything unless you agree with it.
2. Never agree to anything with a telecommunication company that calls you. If you want to make a change in your phone service or have a question, call your phone company.
3. Call your phone company and have them lock down your phone account. Make sure that third parties can't bill you and that your number can not be ported without your verbal authorization.
4. Listen to yourself if you feel uneasy. There's probably a reason for it.