Philly Phone Sex Co. Amassing 800 Numbers

The company snatches up relinquished numbers and uses them for phone sex lines.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Ron Chapple
    A local company has its hands in the phone sex business.

    For years, teens across the country could call a toll-free hotline if they had embarrassing questions about AIDS and safe sex. Dial the same number now, and you get a recording of giggling women offering to talk dirty to you – all you have to do is enter a credit card number.

    Those naughty misdials – and countless others like them – appear to be no accident.

    According to the Associated Press, Philadelphia company PrimeTel Communications located near the Liberty Bell has quietly gained control over nearly a quarter of all the 800 numbers in the U.S. and Canada, often snatching them up the moment they’re relinquished by previous users. As of last month, PrimeTel administered more 800 numbers than any other company – including AT&T and Verizon.

    And many, if not most of those 1.7 million numbers appear to be used for one thing – redirecting callers to phone sex service.

    Dial 1-800-Chicago and instead of reaching a tourism hotline for the Windy City, you’ll hear a woman offering “one-on-one talk with a nasty girl” for $2.99 per minute. A similar thing happens if you punch in the initial digits of 1-800-Metallica, 1-800-Cadillac, 1-800-Minolta, 1-800-Cameras, 1-800-Worship or 1-800-Whirlpool.

    All those numbers contain messages redirecting callers to erotic chat lines operated by National A-1 Advertising, a company that shares a Philadelphia office building with PrimeTel.

    The companies have common ownership and list many of the same people as executives or business contacts.

    Over the years, though, PrimeTel has been hit with lawsuits and complaints alleging that it is violating federal rules banning toll-free service providers from hoarding digits. Federal Communications Commission rules say that “routing multiple toll-free numbers to a single toll-free subscriber” is usually considered hoarding.

    The FCC has never taken formal action against PrimeTel or
    National A-1, although federal authorities have expressed renewed interest lately in companies that handle toll-free numbers. In the fall, authorities sent subpoenas to several, including PrimeTel, asking for information on how they acquire numbers and why.

     In October, federal agents and Philadelphia police spent two days removing records from National A-1's office suite, although it is unclear if the action was related to the phone business.

    Nothing was amiss and the lawyer for both companies says that PrimeTel isn’t breaking any rules or engaging in prohibited practices such as selling numbers or obtaining ones it doesn’t intend to use.

    Helein said the raid last fall was not aimed at PrimeTel.
    National A-1 and its owners have a variety of business enterprises headquartered at the same address, including a website sometimes used by prostitutes to advertise their services.

    People in the telecommunications industry who are familiar with PrimeTel say that in addition to snapping up familiar 1-800 numbers, the company may be trying to capitalize on people's fat-finger dialing mistakes by acquiring numbers that are just a digit or two away from a major company's number.

    Helein denied PrimeTel was trying to capitalize from misdials or engaged in a strategy to intercept calls made by customers of other businesses.

    The lawyer claims that PrimeTel has been the target of complaints from other industry players who are “jealous” of the company’s computer systems.

    For the complete Associated Press report, click here.