Manassas Journal Messenger | Merchant discloses telephone bill scam

An Occoquan restaurant owner said he is the target of what he believes is a scam to bilk people out of small amounts of money under the guise of phony collect-call charges.

Sharadindu Kundu, owner of The Garden Kitchen, received a bill from a company called 00 Operator in Sarasota, Fla., on May 1. The bill is dated and postmarked the same day from Southgate, Mich. — even though the return address lists a P.O. box in Sarasota.

Although the bill is dated from May 1, it claims the call was placed on Nov. 5, 2002 at 12:56 p.m.

The $28.84 bill claims someone called collect from a number in New Mexico and stayed on for three minutes. The Verizon and AT&T bills Kundu gets made no mention of the calls. A Verizon representative told him many other people have called complaining that they got the same bill, with the same number on it.

The bill appears to be printed from a home computer on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of white printer paper.

None of Kundu’s employees — all of which have been with him for years — admitted to accepting collect charges.

The 00 Operator Web site listed on the bill will not load. The toll-free number provided for billing questions consistently comes up with the following message: ?All 00 Operator customer service lines are busy at this time. Please wait one hour or more and call back.?

Jim Roberts, owner of an Atlanta, Ga., bartending school, said that for the past few days, people have been calling him about some kind of bill. When he called the Sprint telecommunications company, they knew nothing about it.

His number is one digit off from the one listed on the bill. During one of the six calls the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger placed to 00 Operator, the call diverted to Roberts’ business.

The bill cites the following charges: $.78 for a ?federal excise tax,? $.25 for ?number portability,? $1.89 for a ?universal service fee at 7.2805 percent,? and $25.92 in regular charges for the alleged three minute call.

In the middle of the bill is a bold note — ?Final Notice? — and warns that late payment, penalty fees and collection charges will be incurred if payment is not received in time. The due date is May 31.

The late payment policy is ?strictly enforced,? the notice says.

The notice says that before accepting charges, the individual called has the freedom to request a rate quote by pressing nine. To accept, a person must press one, the statement claims.

?Only then is the collect call processed and billed,? the statement says.

?I’m not going to pay,? Kundu said. ?My concern is that some people just send the money in.? Kundu was referring to the possibility that because of the small amount requested on the bill, many people will send money to simply settle the matter.

Kundu has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

Prince William police have not received any complaints regarding any type of alleged collect-call scam, according to 1st Sgt. Kim Chinn, Prince William police spokeswoman.

FCC telecommunications officials could not be immediately reached late Wednesday.

Staff writer Daniel Drew can be reached at (703) 878-8065.

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