PR Newswire Prepaid cards and similar online services for calling family and friends in Mexico are littered with punishing fees and a confusing array of rates that can jump as high as 1,000 percent depending on the city being called, but shoppers armed with good information can avoid the rip-offs, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) said Wednesday in a report outlining calling-card offers.
CUB’s report, “Avoiding the Potholes: Finding Good Deals for Calls to Mexico,” said the prepaid calling-card industry “can resemble a tangled, congested highway with bumper-to-bumper, often-confusing ‘deals’ and plenty of potholes.”
Calling-card offers, however, can beat other options—such as Internet phone service or traditional long-distance plans—in accessibility and price. To help Chicagoland residents who want to maintain contact with friends and family vacationing or living in Mexico, CUB set up an online “Calling Mexico Center” at the group’s award-winning website here.
The center includes a chart outlining the best deals that CUB uncovered as well as an e-mail address in which consumers can contact CUB to share information about good deals they have found.
“Shopping for the ideal calling card can be a frustrating experience, to say the least, but it’s not as frustrating as getting slapped with a bad deal,” said Annie Warnock, CUB’s Hispanic Relations & Media Coordinator. “That’s why CUB has set up the Calling Mexico Center, to help consumers avoid rip-offs, take advantage of good deals, and share information.”
CUB’s report analyzed two kinds of prepaid calling offers. Prepaid calling cards, which can be bought at corner stores and gas stations across the Chicago area, offer a set amount of calling time for a certain advertised price. To access the calling minutes, customers have to dial extra digits, called an access number. CUB also looked at prepaid offers over the Internet, allowing consumers to set up an account and transfer money into it to buy calling time.
CUB’s report found a confusing array of rates to different cities. One card offered rates as low as .7 cents per minute and as high as 9 cents a minute, depending on what city in Mexico a consumer called—a jump of about 1,186 percent. Other factors that can cause your costs to go up include:
* Abusive charges and fees. One prepaid offer featured a low 2-cents-per-minute rate to Mexico City, but it was inflated by a 49-cent “connection fee” and a 99-cent monthly “maintenance” fee.
* Punishing rates for calls to cell phones. CUB found rates 20 times above what the same prepaid offer charged for a call to a traditional landline. Also, calling from a payphone is inadvisable, slapping customers with rates as high as $1 a minute.
* Higher rates, depending on what type of “access number” a consumer uses. Consumers using a toll-free access number pay rates that are at least a penny-per-minute higher.
* Cards that can’t be recharged and cards that expire. CUB scanned the fine print of calling card offers and discovered that some cards expire, even if there’s still time on them. Also, some cards can’t be “recharged” with extra minutes.
Despite all these “potholes,” CUB’s report said calling-card offers tend to beat plans from traditional landline long-distance and wireless companies. Internet telephone services, such as Skype, have intriguingly low prices—even offering free calls in some instances—but require a broadband Internet connection, which may be outside some household budgets.
“There are good deals out there,” Warnock said. “Consumers who want to call Mexico have a lot of choices, but good information to make the right choice is hard to come by. CUB wants to help change that.”
CUB is Illinois’ leading nonprofit utility watchdog organization. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, CUB has saved consumers more than $10 billion by helping to block rate hikes and secure refunds. For more information, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556 or visit CUB’s award-winning website.
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