North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
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Cooper takes aim at deceptive telemarketer that preyed on seniors

Release date: 8/2/2006

AG files suit against Buzz Telecom for switching seniors to over-priced phone service

 

Raleigh: Attorney General Roy Cooper filed suit on Wednesday against a telemarketer that tricked North Carolina seniors into paying too much for long distance phone service.

“These sneaky telemarketers misled seniors with promises of special discounts and then stuck them with inflated phone bills,” Cooper said. “We are working to put a permanent stop to their calls and make sure they give seniors their money back.”

Cooper filed suit in Wake County Superior Court against Buzz Telecom of Merrillville, Indiana alleging that the company used unfair and deceptive practices and violated the state’s telemarketing laws. He is asking the court to permanently ban Buzz and its employees from telemarketing in North Carolina and to cancel the company’s contracts with North Carolina customers. Cooper also seeks refunds for consumers and civil penalties of $5,000 per violation.

According to the complaint, Buzz began pitching its long-distance telephone service to North Carolinians sometime in 2003 through telemarketing calls. Buzz telemarketers regularly failed to tell consumers that they were calling to switch them to a new phone service and often claimed to be with the consumer’s local phone company. The company particularly targeted senior citizens, promising a senior discount to consumers who answered yes to a series of questions designed to verify the consumer’s enrollment in the new long distance service. Instead, consumers wound up with phone bills that were double or tripled what they had previously paid. Many of the seniors targeted by Buzz lived on fixed incomes and made few long distance calls.

More than 30 consumers have complained about Buzz since 2004, mostly seniors, their children or caregivers. Cooper’s office first learned about Buzz’ telemarketing tactics when a Tennessee woman called to complain that her elderly parents in Robbinsville, NC had seen their phone bill double to $58 a month. The couple recalled receiving a call from Buzz but had not wanted to switch their long distance service.

Cooper’s office also received complaints from seniors in Clinton, Angier, Henderson, Troy, Ahoskie and Caswell and Wilkes counties, including some who were more than 90 years old. Consumers who discovered the charges from Buzz on their phone bills and called the company to cancel were told they would have to pay an additional fee of $19.95.

In a letter dated April 28, 2005, the Attorney General’s Office told Buzz to stop telemarketing in North Carolina. The company then claimed that it had stopped making calls to North Carolinians, but consumers began complaining about calls from Buzz again in 2006 prompting Cooper to take legal action. Buzz has halted its telemarketing calls to North Carolina consumers while the suit goes forward.

“Remember that you can still sign up for the Do Not Call Registry to cut down on all unwanted telemarketing calls,” Cooper reminded consumers. Consumers can add their home and mobile numbers to the list by going to www.nocallsnc.com or calling 1-888-382-1222 within North Carolina from the number they wish to register.

Consumers who believe they may have been a victim of Buzz or another telemarketing scheme should report it to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. Relatives and caregivers of seniors are also encouraged to be on the look out for similar scams.

  Contact:  Noelle Talley (919) 716-6413