Perfect for a business of one, corporate executives and busy freelancers, the eVoice Professional Plan is designed for people on the go. The Small Business Plan provides you with an affordable phone system with many of the same features and benefits you’d expect from an expensive PBX system. Glenn Noyes poses for photos at his business, Patriot Auto Services, in Edgewater, Md., Monday, April 18, 2011.
Records obtained by The Associated Press show that over the past 13 years, a little-known Philadelphia company called PrimeTel Communications has quietly gained control over nearly a quarter of all the 1-800 numbers in the U.S. Dial 1-800-Chicago and instead of reaching a tourism hotline for the Windy City, you will hear a woman offering "one-on-one talk with a nasty girl" for $2.99 per minute.
All those numbers contain messages redirecting callers to erotic chat lines operated by National A-1 Advertising, a company that shares an office building with PrimeTel, has common ownership and lists many of the same people as executives or business contacts. Many people who mistakenly dial a phone-sex line probably just get red-faced and hang up as quickly as possible.
Founded in 1995, PrimeTel is one of around 400 companies registered as toll-free service providers for the U.S. There is nothing illegal about using toll-free phone services to promote adult entertainment, and callers aren't charged unless they supply their credit card information.
Over the years, though, PrimeTel has been hit with lawsuits and complaints alleging that it is violating federal rules banning toll-free service providers from hoarding digits. The FCC has never taken formal action against PrimeTel or National A-1, although federal authorities have expressed renewed interest lately in companies that handle toll-free numbers.
And in October, federal agents and Philadelphia police spent two days removing records from National A-1's office suite, although it is unclear if the action was related to the phone business.
The man listed on many government records as the top executive at both PrimeTel and National A-1, Richard Cohen, declined interview requests. According to a database maintained by an industry organization, PrimeTel was listed as the administrator of record for at least 1,667,000 out of around 7.87 million active 800 numbers as of this March.
Critics of the company say it isn't the sex that bothers them, but the acquisition of so many numbers. A spokesman for the FCC, David Fiske, would not comment on whether the agency had ever examined PrimeTel's activities but said the commission is actively enforcing rules on number hoarding. PrimeTel appears to have benefited by grabbing numbers associated with famous names, like 1-800-Beatles, or numbers that have recently been canceled but are still advertised widely.


From the late 1980s until around 2005, teenagers who dialed the national hotline used by Teens Teaching AIDS Prevention would reach a call center in Kansas City, Mo., where other youths were waiting to answer questions about the disease. When New York City's Fire Department relinquished its toll-free fire safety hotline a few years ago because of an administrative slip-up, PrimeTel grabbed it the moment it became available. The same thing happened to the Cook County Jail in Chicago when it canceled its toll-free inmate information line, and to rape counseling hotlines in Maine and New Mexico. The Republican National Committee once printed a fundraising mailer with a toll-free calling code and was publicly embarrassed when the calls began ringing in to one of National A-1's chat lines. People in the telecommunications industry who are familiar with PrimeTel say that in addition to snapping up familiar 1-800 numbers, the company may be trying to capitalize on people's fat-finger dialing mistakes by acquiring numbers that are just a digit or two away from a major company's number. Helein denied PrimeTel was trying to capitalize from misdials or engaged in a strategy to intercept calls made by customers of other businesses. The key to PrimeTel's business is its access to the entity that controls the assignment of toll-free numbers, called the 800 Service Management System.
FCC rules expressly ban service providers from reserving a number unless they have a genuine customer lined up to use it. But there are also companies that are illegally buying and selling the numbers, and they are a hot commodity, sometimes even available on eBay. Such numbers are so highly sought-after that several companies have built powerful computer systems that search the database every day, looking for digits of potential value. Helein said PrimeTel has been the target of complaints from other industry players who are "jealous" of the company's computer systems.
Snapchat, which allows people to send smartphone photos or video snippets timed to self-destruct 10 seconds or less after being opened, has become hugely popular among teenagers who are easing away from Facebook. But Australian firm Gibson Security warned last week that glitches in the application could be exploited by hackers. Created by students at Stanford University in 2011, Snapchat reportedly rejected a $3 billion takeover offer from Facebook last year.
The service is not linked to your actual phone number, just the first number you enter and verify. A similar thing happens if you punch in the initial digits of 1-800-Metallica, 1-800-Cadillac, 1-800-Minolta, 1-800-Cameras, 1-800-Worship or 1-800-Whirlpool.
Capturing callers who have reached the wrong number — whether because they punched an incorrect digit or dialed a number without realizing it had changed hands — is a "big new industry," she said.


Federal Communications Commission rules say that "routing multiple toll-free numbers to a single toll-free subscriber" is usually considered hoarding. In the fall, authorities sent subpoenas to several, including PrimeTel, asking for information on how they acquire numbers and why.
A lawyer for both companies, Charles Helein, would not discuss their business dealings in detail but said PrimeTel isn't breaking any rules or engaging in prohibited practices such as selling numbers or obtaining ones it doesn't intend to use. National A-1 and its owners have a variety of business enterprises headquartered at the same address, including a website sometimes used by prostitutes to advertise their services.
Industry experts said PrimeTel also holds a dominant share of numbers with other toll-free codes, like 888 and 866, giving it several million numbers overall. Numbers are available on a first-come, first-served basis at a cost of about 9.6 cents per month.
Numbers can be reserved as quickly as 95 milliseconds after they are released by former users.
Dial the same number now and you get a recording of giggling women offering to talk dirty to you. As of March, it administered more 800 numbers than any other company, including Verizon and AT&T.
That gives it the same power to reserve and assign unused toll-free numbers as big phone companies with millions of customers. When a customer is done using a number, it is supposed to go back into the pool for use by someone else. But PrimeTel appears to be amassing numbers predominantly for one closely related partner, National A-1.
Those instances appear to be outnumbered by ones in which callers reach a phone-sex solicitation. The big phone companies that supply toll-free numbers make their money not by selling the number itself but by providing telephone service.




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