NEW YORK —
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 that program ended, the number was soon routed to one of National A-1's sex lines. But the AIDS hotline number is still publicized by public health groups.
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. Soon enough, 1-800-FIRETIP was ringing into one of National A-1's phone-sex lines.
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.
It happened to Glenn Noyes, too. Shortly after the toll-free number for his auto repair business in Edgewater, Md., was mistakenly canceled by his phone company, it began redirecting customers to an erotic chat service called "Intimate Encounters."
"It was pretty embarrassing," Noyes said. "I had people walking around wearing T-shirts with that number."
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.