NEW YORK — For years, teenagers across the U.S. could call a toll-free hotline if they had embarrassing questions about AIDS and safe sex. Dial the same number now and you get a recording of giggling women offering to talk dirty to you.
"We both have big appetites for sex," they purr. "Pinch us and poke us. Spank us and tease us. We love it all. ... Enter your credit card number now."
Those naughty misdials, and countless others like them, appear to be no accident.
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. and Canada, often by grabbing them the moment they are relinquished by previous users. As of March, it administered more 800 numbers that any other company, including Verizon and AT&T.
And many, if not most, of those 1.7 million numbers appear to be used for one thing: redirecting callers to a phone-sex service.
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. 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.
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. Others apparently respond to the come-on and supply their credit card number.