1-800-COLLECT, 1-800-CALL-ATT, 10-10-220, and the mass-marketed super-numbers
These days, you can't watch an episode of anything without stumbling into an ad for a fantasy sports service like FanDuel or DraftKings.
But if you remember the '90s and early 2000s, you might have felt a wave of deja vu the first time you saw those ads. Not because fantasy sports were so awesome in the '90s, but because we had been through this whole mass-saturation thing before regarding a relatively narrow product with a very wide audience.
The phone numbers 10-10-220, 1-800-COLLECT, and 1-800-CALL-TTT were inescapable as advertising icons during the '90s and early 2000s. These services, designed to help save money on various aspects of landline phone calls (10-10-220 was a workaround for high-cost long-distance calling; the other two, services for cheaper collect calls), utilized major stars for their numerous ads.
Mr. T was a notable shill for the WorldCom-owned 1-800-COLLECT, once starring in an ad with a before-he-was-famous Aaron Paul. AT&T's 1-800-CALL-ATT, meanwhile, turned David Arquette into the most famous person doing television ads for a couple of years.
And 10-10-220? That service, owned by WorldCom subsidiary Telecom USA, brought us the sight of Alf having a conversation with Terry Bradshaw.
All of these services started getting aggressively promoted basically because they were services that made these companies a ton of freaking money, and were specifically useful during the decade-long period between the decline of long-distance calling and the rise of smartphones. In fact, when the Wall Street Journal wrote about the phenomenon in 2001, 36 percent of teenagers already had a mobile device of some kind, meaning that the services were already facing an existential threat.
Another problem with the numbers is that people occasionally have fat fingers and dial the wrong number, putting in 1-800-CLLL-ATT or 1-800-COLLCCT. As is common nowadays with some URLs, scam artists saw an opportunity to make money off of your bad luck. The problem was serious enough that the FCC had to offer a warning to consumers about the risks of collect-call misdials.
You get connected to the party you wished to call, but the phone company that connects you is not the one you thought you were using. Instead, it is a company that secured 800 numbers similar to well-known ones, likely hoping that you might accidentally misdial your intended number. If this happens, you are probably unaware you are using a different phone carrier than the one you intended to use because you don’t know you misdialed. Often, the company won’t identify itself to you or the person receiving the collect call before connecting the call.
These days, though, the real risks come from using the services you once saw on TV.
That's right. 1-800-COLLECT, 1-800-CALL-ATT, and 10-10-220 are still around, and they've not gotten less expensive with time.
As a result, your collect-call subjects could find themselves paying $1.49 per minute with a $13.50 service charge if you use 1-800-CALL-ATT. That's bad, but not as 1-800-COLLECT, which charges a $10.63 connection fee, along with a $3.99-per-minute charge for an in-state payphone call from Virginia.
The company's website still promotes its long history of ads with The Simpsons, Ed O'Neill, Arsenio Hall, and Phil Hartman, but it buries the prices in a confusing menu that's hard to figure out, a click-heavy mess that's almost designed to encourage people to give up.
It's pretty understandable, considering the service preys on people who don't know the rates, like this Ars Technica reader who found a $42.55 charge waiting for him after he called his California home from Las Vegas.
The lesson here: If you're stuck without a device and you need to call someone, get a burner phone. It's probably cheaper, and the odds of finding a payphone in 2016 are pretty low, anyway.