PUC Warns of Long-Distance Service Fraud

From a Times Staff Writer

The California Public Utilities Commission warned consumers Tuesday that up to 25 unauthorized companies may be trying to sell long-distance telephone services illegally in the state.

Marco Valenti, manager of the PUC’s consumer affairs branch, said the unauthorized companies seem to concentrate on residential customers and small businesses.

Usually, he said, the companies offer some form of flat fee for unlimited long-distance calling or discounts for signing up friends and relatives. In many cases, Valenti said, the firms lease only a few telephone lines from major long-distance carriers, and these lines soon become so crowded that customers find them constantly busy.


Valenti also cited a case in which a consumer responded to a sales pitch by mailing $500 to an office address in Dallas--only to find later, after contacting the PUC, that there was no record of any such company. The money has not been recovered.

Valenti urged consumers approached by representatives of long-distance companies with which they are unfamiliar to check with the PUC in Los Angeles ((213) 620-2570) or in San Francisco ((415) 557-1048) to make sure that the firms are certified by the state. The state Department of Consumer Affairs also offers a booklet, “Choosing a Long-Distance Telephone Company,” that can be ordered by calling (916) 445-1254.

Hundreds of long-distance telephone companies have started selling service since the breakup of the Bell System 5 years ago, Valenti noted. The PUC certifies more than 120 firms to provide service in California. These companies are required to file their prices with the commission and to submit to state regulatory procedures.