The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I must have had my psychic mojo working this past Tuesday. My seemingly crackpot suggestion that shady companies were buying up spare toll-free numbers in the hopes of snaring unsuspecting misdialers appears to be validated as fact by this FTC crackdown:

According to the Federal Trade Commission, three Utah-based companies bought dozens of phone numbers very similar to the toll-free numbers that "American Idol" fans call to place their votes. Viewers who misdialed and got one of the numbers were directed to dial a 900-number to place their vote. A message on the 900-number then gave the correct toll-free number to call.

The FTC said about 25,000 consumers were charged up to $3 per call during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

I wonder if there's any connection to the offending companies being in Utah, with that state's (801) area code being so close to the usual (800) toll-free code. I can't believe anyone would misdial the 1-800 part of a toll-free number, but I guess when you're talking about thousands, even millions, of callers, the odds are there. Said odds being markedly increased when you're talking about idiot "American Idol" fans.

This game has been played on the Web for years. Typos of popular website URLs used to be cornered regularly by the same sort of sleazy operators. Some still are--for instance, mistyping "" as "" will give you a bunch of popups and a redirect to some fly-by-night website. More commonly, the intended websites will buy up the typo URLs to ensure they don't get hijacked; Yahoo!, for instance, has got "", "", and "" all redirecting to the proper homepage.