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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Consumer Reports finds issues with calling cards

An investigation conducted by Consumer Reports found irregularities with some prepaid calling card products. Certain cards imposed fees and drained the value on cards before calls could be completed, while other cards listed fees and surcharges that weren't imposed when calls were made, the consumer watchdog reported.

Consumer Reports enlisted "secret shoppers" to purchase international calling cards from bodegas, gas stations and national chain stores in New York state. The watchdog said New York state is a popular area for phone cards because of its large immigrant population. The shoppers purchased over 130 cards for making calls to places like Latin America and India.

Consumer Reports found that about three-quarters of the cards didn't list per-minute call rates. Furthermore, the businesses didn't display posters at the POS or offer rate sheets to inform card buyers of the fees they charged. Additionally, "only a few" of the card providers had websites where consumers could find rates for the cards, the publication said. "Some of the sites we found didn't list rates for the particular cards we purchased," Consumer Reports added. "And when we did find rates, they sometimes differed from the actual calling time available on the card." Consumer Reports found additional problems with the card programs. "While most of the cards we bought didn't have up-front connection fees, many had post-call fees, periodic fees and surcharges that were hard to calculate," the agency said. "Some used vague terms, such as 'up to 35 percent.' Some cards were so crammed with fees and disclaimers we had to use a magnifying glass to read them. One card's disclaimer ran to more than 500 words."

The report is available at www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/05/shop-wisely-when-buying-prepaid-phone-cards/index.htm . end of article

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