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Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Sunday, May 12, 2002


Be careful to screen
phone cards before use


Question: I bought a Star One phone card in Waikiki for $5. In its ads displayed in windows and in the brochures, it explicitly says no connection fees. But unbeknownst to me, there was a "disconnection" fee. I used the card to call Canada. I had 23 minutes left and spoke for one minute and 30 seconds. But when I got off, I was told I had only 12 minutes left. I called 1-888-568-3065 and a woman told me eight to nine minutes were deducted because there is a disconnection fee. This was unbelievable. I think this is false advertising and a very bad practice for visitors to the islands. What can be done?

Answer: According to the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii, SmartTalk (the same company as Oblio Telecom) issues the Star One cards. On the back of the card, if it says services are provided by SmartTalk, that means services are provided by AT&T, a BBB official explained. However, another company services the card if it says services are provided by Quest.

The customer service number you cited is for Quest. When we called that number, a customer service supervisor told us she could "not comment" on anything. However, she did say she needed a personal identification number (PIN) to determine whether you should have been charged a disconnect fee. We were then told you should put your complaint in writing, with the PIN and photo copy of the card and send it to Prepaid Phone Cards, Customer Service, P.O. Box 904, Florence, KY 41002-0904. The BBB said to make it to the attention of Timothy Smith.

The distributor of the Star One cards is Star Telecom Network, based in California, according to the BBB.

Attempts to reach a Star Telecom official for comment were unsuccessful. However, a Star Telecom representative told the BBB that "the advertisement should disclose that the card is good for a single connection. This means that the entire time should be made/used for that one call, and if the user disconnects, then a disconnect fee is charged."

The BBB also was told that the exact charge is not known, but that that information that comes "in a packet" should describe this.

Neither the state Office of Consumer Protection nor the local BBB has received complaints about Star One cards.

If you feel you were misled or cannot get your complaint resolved with Quest, you can file a complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection. Call 586-2636. The BBB says inquiries and consumer concerns should be directed to the BBB in Kentucky: The Better Business Bureau, Inc., 844 S. 4th St., Louisville, KY 40203-2186 (phone 502-583-6546; fax 502-589-9940; or e-mail info@ky-in.bbb.org).

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has some tips for consumers to avoid problems with prepaid phone cards.

The FTC says it's important to remember that when you buy a phone card from a store, you're buying a service, not a product. The store doesn't control the quality of service. It recommends you buy a small denomination first to test the service, and check first with other people about their experiences with various cards.

The FTC suggests that consumers:

>> Ask if the retailer will stand behind the card if the telephone service is unsatisfactory.

>> Look for the rate for domestic and international calls on the card's package or on the vending machine. These rates may vary depending on where you call. If you can't find the rate, call the card's customer service number.

>> Beware of very low rates, particularly for international calls. They may indicate poor customer service.

>> Look for disclosures about surcharges, monthly fees, per-call access and the like, in addition to the rate-per-minute or unit. Some cards add a surcharge to the first minute of use. Others charge an activation fee for recharging cards.

>> Check on expiration dates. Most cards expire one year after first use. If there is no expiration date, a card usually is considered "live" until all phone time is used.

>> Look for a toll-free customer service number. If the customer service number isn't toll free or displayed, it may be difficult to contact the company. A busy signal also may be a "tip off to a rip off."

>> Be sure the card comes with instructions you understand.

You may also file a complaint about a prepaid phone card company with the FTC. Call 1-877-382-4357 or use the complaint form at www.ftc.gov.

Recycle old cell phones

In the May 8 Kokua Line, a reader wanted to know what to do with old cell phones. We said Verizon Wireless was collecting and refurbishing wireless phones of any make and model for its HopeLine program. The phones are then sold and the proceeds used to support domestic violence programs locally and nationally.

Since then we've been informed that Sprint Project Collect was recently launched nationwide. All donated wireless phones -- from any carrier -- will be either recycled or resold with a portion of the proceeds going to Easter Seals and the National Organization on Disability to help people with disabilities.

Sprint donated $200,000 to the two organizations to launch the program, according to spokeswoman Lisa Ontai.

Locally, phones can be taken to Sprint Store at 680 Ala Moana, Pearl City Times Square Shopping Center or Kaahumanu Shopping Center on Maui or at the Easter Seals of Hawaii headquarters at 710 Queen St.

For more information, stop by a Sprint Store or go online at www.sprintpcs.com.

Mahalo

To Ruth O'Sullivan and especially to her two dear children -- M. and P. Tobin -- for "rescuing" my carelessly forgotten purse at Aikahi Park on Easter Sunday after I had spent a pleasant afternoon with my grandchildren there. Before I even got home, she had tracked down my daughter's phone number to let me know the wonderful news. They didn't want to accept any reward, feeling the children learned a valuable lesson in doing the right thing. -- Grateful Senior Citizen





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