Phone cards with talk time you have paid for in advance can be a great convenience if you don’t have a long-distance carrier or a cellular phone service package with long-distance minutes. They can also be a help to travelers, students and those with no home telephone. To use a phone card, usually you dial an access number from any phone and enter your personal identification number (PIN) and the destination phone number. A computer tracks your usage and the available time remaining on your card.
In this competitive industry, however, some of these cards come with problems that may be hard to resolve because the issuer already has your money. The access number or customer service number may be busy or not working; the issuer may have gone out of business; connections may be poor; you may be charged even if you don’t connect; your usage time may be rounded up to the next full minute; and rates may be higher than advertised or contain hidden access charges, surcharges or monthly fees.
When you are shopping for a phone card for yourself or to give to someone else, there are a number of factors to consider:
- Are the rates posted?
- Are there charges and fees in addition to the per-minute charge?
- Is there a minimum charge for each call?
- Is usage time calculated on the basis of seconds, full minutes or fractions of minutes?
- Are the rates so low as to question the level of customer service you are paying for?
- Does the name of the service provider appear on the card?
- Is a toll-free customer service number listed?
- Does the card show its initial value in dollars or minutes?
- Does it have an expiration date?
- Does it give clear instructions for use?
- Is the PIN concealed from view at the time of purchase?
- Will you receive a warning when you have nearly exhausted your purchased minutes?
- Can you recharge the card with more minutes, and does this involve an activation fee?
Where to report problems
If you do encounter a problem with a prepaid calling card, first report it to the company providing the telephone service—rather than to the store where the card was purchased.
If this does not resolve your problem, you can file a complaint with the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates telephone service within the state of Georgia. (The PSC requires all companies selling prepaid [or “debit”] phone cards in Georgia, or companies located in the state and selling phone cards over the Internet, to obtain the appropriate certification for a local exchange, long distance and/or resale.) You can use their online complaint form, or contact them at:
Georgia Public Service Commission
Consumer Affairs Office
244 Washington Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
Toll-free in Georgia: 800-282-5813
Metro Atlanta: 404-656-4501
If your complaint is about using your card for interstate or international calling, you should direct it instead to the Federal Communications Commission, so that they will be aware of the company in question.