Telephone fraud fighters

Gilroy
– Wading through cellular phone contracts, negotiating DSL
charges or choosing a long-distance carrier can be challenging for
anyone, but for people with limited-English skills the tasks can be
overwhelming.
Now, Communities for Telecom Rights, a non-profit organization,
is working with the Gilroy’s Mexican American Community Services
Agency, Inc. and the Watsonville Law Center to keep local residents
safe from telecom and Internet fraud.
Gilroy – Wading through cellular phone contracts, negotiating DSL charges or choosing a long-distance carrier can be challenging for anyone, but for people with limited-English skills the tasks can be overwhelming.

Now, Communities for Telecom Rights, a non-profit organization, is working with the Gilroy’s Mexican American Community Services Agency, Inc. and the Watsonville Law Center to keep local residents safe from telecom and Internet fraud.

“They get into packages which they really don’t understand,” said Dennis Grundhoefer, a community outreach education specialist with MACSA. He has seen cases where a consumer goes into a shop to buy a cell phone, thinking they are only purchasing the phone and they end up with a two-year contract.

“Many times, even in their own language, they aren’t sure what is happening,” Grundhoefer said. “Or they are just plain taken advantage of.”

Grundhoefer worked with one woman who received a call in Spanish asking her if she was interested in a cell phone. She said she already had one that was too small and wanted a new one. The company sent her a cell phone, the same model she already had, so she returned it without knowing they had also signed her up for a new service contract. She was charged a $250 termination fee.

A main focus of the program is to give people the information they need to make an informed decision before they get into a contract.

“Our program is trying to educate consumers, on anything from slamming and cramming or avoiding certain pre-paid telephone cards,” Grundhoefer said.

He and his associates, who work out of a MACSA office on the South Valley Middle School campus, said they interview clients and review any disputed contracts or bills before they contact a company for the client.

For clients who have more complicated legal issues, they can turn to the Watsonville Law Center in Watsonville or to the Latino Issues Forum in San Francisco.

“With cell phones, we see a lot of problems because the average consumer can’t understand the bills,” said Henry Martin, an attorney with the Watsonville Law Center. “It’s not a consumer problem.”

During the summer months, Martin and other members of CTR said they have many clients who end up with unexpected roaming charges as they travel to Mexico or other regions of the United States.

“We also see a real problem with people signing up at kiosks in the mall,” Martin said. “Those sales people may not be familiar with the contract or they do not have a strong incentive to explain the contract to customers.”

For more information on telecom fraud and rights, contact MACSA at 846-5999 or the Watsonville Law Center at 831-722-2845.

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