Pre-Paid Phone Cards
While the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission
does not have any jurisdiction over the price or terms
of service of pre-paid phone cards, we frequently receive
calls from consumers about them. Below is some information
provided by the Federal Communications Commission on
pre-paid phone cards.
What Is a Pre-paid Phone Card?
A pre-paid phone card is a card you purchase (for
a set price) and use to make long distance phone calls.
These cards are usually sold in dollar amounts or by
number of minutes.
Why Do People Buy Pre-paid Phone Cards?
Many people use a pre-paid phone card because of the
card’s convenience - it can be used anywhere and,
since you pay in advance, there is no bill. Pre-paid
phone cards are popular among travelers, students, people
who frequently call overseas, and those who haven’t
selected a long-distance service. In addition, pre-paid
phone cards are sold in convenient places, such as newsstands,
post offices, and stores.
What about International Calls?
Rates for international calls can vary dramatically,
based on the country that you call or the way that you
make the call. Pre-paid phone cards often offer rates
that are much lower than a telephone
company’s basic international rates.
How Do I Use a Pre-paid Phone Card?
A toll-free access phone number and a personal identification
number (PIN) are usually printed on each phone card.
To make a phone call, you dial the access number and
then enter the PIN. An automated voice will ask you
to enter the phone number you are trying to call, and
it will tell you how much time you have left on your
card. It might also give you other information/options.
Phone card companies keep track of how much of a card’s
calling time is used by the card’s PIN number.
You can add time to some pre-paid phone cards, and the
added cost can usually be billed to a credit card. If
you cannot add time to your card, you will need to buy
a new one once all the time has been used. Also, pre-paid
phone cards often have expiration dates. Make sure to
keep track of the date your card expires so you don’t
lose unused minutes.
Who Makes Your Phone Card Work?
- Carriers are responsible for the
telephone lines that carry calls.
- Resellers buy telephone minutes
from the carriers.
- Issuers set the card rates and
provide toll-free customer service and access numbers.
- Distributors sell the cards to
- Retailers sell the cards to consumers
(though it is important to remember that a store may
not have control over the quality of the card or the
service it provides).
What Are Common Complaints about Pre-paid Phone
As pre-paid phone cards are increasing in popularity,
some common complaints are becoming evident. They are:
- Access numbers and/or PINs that don’t work;
- Service or access numbers that are always busy;
- Card issuers that go out of business, leaving people
with useless cards;
- Rates that are higher than advertised, or hidden
- Cards that charge you even when your call does
not go through;
- Poor quality connections; and
- Cards that expire without the purchaser’s
How Can I Avoid the Problems Associated with
Pre-paid Phone Cards?
Make sure you understand the rates for your particular
phone card. Also check the expiration date, look for
a toll-free customer service number provided with or
on the card, and make sure you understand the instructions
on how to use the card. You may also want to ask your
friends and family to recommend cards they have used
What Should I Do if My Pre-paid Phone Card
First, try calling the customer service number provided
with the card. If that doesn’t work, call or write
the state Attorney
General's Consumer Protection Bureau. You can also
file a complaint or research the company through your
local Better Business Bureau, or contact the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC). To contact the FTC, call 1-877-FTC-HELP