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When Kids Dial Those 900 Numbers

May 12, 1991

Teaching children telephone etiquette involves more than lessons in common courtesy. Parents should also instruct them on how to avoid the temptations of those expensive 900 numbers that typically charge two bucks a minute, and leave the meter running.

Such 900 numbers generally promote useful information on sports, stocks and the like, but some pay-per-call services directly target children.

Want to hear the Easter Bunny? New Kids on the Block? Jose Canseco? These clever, money-making pitches often remind children to ask their parents first, but when the youngsters don't, the monthly telephone bill will pack a big surprise anyway.

Parents have the option of blocking all calls to 900 numbers. But few mothers or fathers request that "reverse blocking" until a couple of hundred dollars too late.

Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission is providing help. The FTC has filed complaints alleging three companies used deceptive advertising to entice children. One firm will face the complaint in court; two have agreed to new guidelines.

The FTC has ordered the cooperating services to put prominent warnings on television ads and on the recorded phone messages that warn children about the cost, and instruct them to hang up if their parents haven't given permission. These companies must also give parents a one-time credit for all unauthorized calls in a given month.

The FTC's guidelines should apply to all pay-per-call services to protect children, and their bill-paying parents.

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