Prepaid phone cards allow you to pay for your long-distance calling in advance. The cards can be purchased from stores or vending machines and allow you to make long-distance calls from virtually any telephone. While the cards are handy for travelers, some consumers find prepaid cards a convenient way to handle most or all of their long-distance calling needs.
To use the card or other prepaid calling services, you may have to enter an access number or authorization code when a call is placed. Each time a call is placed, the cost of the call is deducted from the prepaid balance on your account.
Until you find a card you can trust, be careful when buying prepaid cards. After all, you’re paying your money with the promise of a service later. Some of the more common complaints regarding prepaid phone cards include access numbers that don’t work or are always busy, higher rates than advertised, hidden charges, poor quality connections and the service expiring before the card can be fully used.
What to Consider When Buying a Prepaid Calling Card
Make sure you receive this information as part of your purchase:
- The name of the company providing, not just selling, the phone service;
- The toll-free number(s) you will need reach the company’s business and technical assistance office;
- Instructions to activate and use the card;
- Any authorization or access code required to place calls;
- The expiration date, if one exists;
- The maximum charge per minute or unit for calls made within the state as well as to other states in the country;
- Any additional surcharges, fees or taxes; and
- The procedure for extending the card’s time, if possible.
Verify the Company’s Registration
All companies offering telephone services in Washington are required to be registered with the UTC. This requirement ensures you have some recourse in the event of a problem with the card. Remember, you're paying for this card on the promise of a service to be delivered later. Should you have any problems in receiving the service you pay for, the UTC will be able to assist you more easily if the company is registered. To verify a company’s registration, visit our Prepaid Calling Card Companies page, or call the UTC‘s Consumer Protection Help Line at 1-888-333-WUTC (9882).
Determining How Much Time Remains on the Card
Companies are required to make an announcement at the beginning of each call indicating the time remaining on the prepaid account or prepaid calling card.
When Time Runs Out
When the time on your card has been used up, any call in progress will be terminated. Companies are required to provide an announcement one minute before the card account is depleted to allow you time to wrap up your conversation before being disconnected.
Contacting the Company
Companies providing prepaid calling cards are required to print the company’s technical assistance and business office numbers on their cards. Card company representatives must be available to provide technical assistance at any time or day (24 hours, 7 days a week). Business offices must be available during normal business hours. If necessary, the company may provide you with the UTC's toll-free phone number. If you've never used this company before, try these numbers to ensure they are operating - do this before you make a purchase.
If the Card Quits on You
Call the business office number. The company is required to provide you call detail which identifies when and where calls were placed, what numbers were called, the length of the calls and how much was deducted for each call. You also have a right to ask for this detail in writing. Companies may ask questions to verify you are the actual user of the account before providing call detail.
Companies are required to maintain a 98 percent level for call completion, which means that 98 out of 100 calls must complete to the called number. Companies are also required to meet the 98 percent level for calls placed to their business office and technical assistance numbers.
A prepaid calling card company must provide you with its refund policies. If a company fails to meet the technical standards relating to call completion or if the company bills you at rates higher than those outlined in the presale document, you may request either a refund or replacement service.
First, contact the company and ask to speak to a supervisor. If after talking to the supervisor, or if the company representative refuses to refer you to a supervisor, you have a right file a complaint with the commission. If a supervisor is aware that you are still dissatisfied the supervisor is required to provide you information on contacting the UTC.
Prepaid Calling Card Checklist
When purchasing a calling card, ask these questions:
- Is the calling card company registered in Washington?
- How much am I paying for a minute of talk time? If the card is for a number of units, does the company define a unit as one minute or some other measure of time?
- Will I be billed for anything other than the time I spend talking? Are there any additional taxes or surcharges?
- Am I familiar with the card? If not, buy only small dollar amount cards until I am sure the service meets my needs.
- Will the card expire, and if so, when?
- Does the company’s access number work from the area the card will be used? Will a card purchased in Washington work where I plan to use it, for example from pay phones in New York City or Canada (or other international locations)?
- Is the toll-free telephone number for calling the company printed on the card?