Pearson airport traveller’s pricey Bell payphone lesson
When George Benninger popped his credit card into a Bell payphone at Pearson airport last month, he was just calling his home near Stratford to check his daughter was en route to pick him up.
That call, which he said lasted about a minute, cost him $11.49.
“I didn’t have any change, so I put in my Visa card,” Benninger said. “If I had known this, I would have given someone $5 to use a cellphone.”
He said he was shocked when he opened his Visa bill and saw the charge, noting it doesn’t leave a great impression of Toronto for visitors.
Benninger contacted WiMacTel, a Calgary-based company listed on the bill, to complain, but said he was told “it was legal and (there was) nothing they were prepared to do about it.”
“Sometimes things are legal, but not morally proper,” Benninger said of the experience.
WiMacTel is a privately held company that provides operator services for payphones, hotels, hospitals, universities and colleges and local exchange companies, according to its website. It specializes in routing and billing of collect, third party, person to person, calling card and credit card telephone calls.
WiMacTel’s CEO James MacKenzie declined an interview request from the Star, and asked that written questions be submitted.
Gary Joseph, director of regulatory, responded via email, saying consumers don’t understand the expense differences between a direct-directed call, including coin-paid calls, and one that is operator-assisted.
Those expenses include validating the payment method, billing and collection, live operators, credit card processing fees, and writing off bad debt, he said.
Charges for operator-assisted calls, whether it is automated or through a live operator, include a per-minute charge, an operator assistance service charge, and any applicable taxes.
WiMacTel does not post its calling rates on pay telephones “for the simple reason that there is not enough space,” given all the potential type of calls, Joseph said.
However, callers have an option to obtain a rate quote, whether through an automated basis or live operators, and “if the caller opts for this, they will be given the charges and then advised that applicable taxes will be in addition to the call charges.”
Joseph said Benninger probably didn’t do this, but welcomed him to contact WiMacTel to resolve the issue.
Benninger doesn’t remember hearing any message prompt for billing information.
A Star reporter made a long-distance call to Hull, Quebec, from a payphone at Pearson airport this week, using a credit card. The first prompt asked the caller to press 1 for English assistance, and then to press 1 to complete the call. Though many callers will follow that prompt and get on with the call, if you don’t, a message asking to press 3 for rates follows after a slight pause.
Alison Peltokangas of the Better Business Bureau that serves the Calgary area said it received 12 complaints about WiMacTel in the past year. All have been resolved.
Citing privacy reasons, the BBB declined to disclose any details of the complaints but said the company worked with the BBB to deal with them.
On its website, the BBB said it contacted the company on May 13 after a pattern of complaints about high credit card charges for long distance calls made from public payphones.
The BBB added that “to avoid the risk of such charges, the public is advised to use coins in public payphones.”
The Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services reports no complaints filed against the company.
The CRTC said it only regulates local calling, not long distance.
The federal Office of Consumer Affairs says it doesn’t deal with complaints, instead it offers general consumer advice.
Bell spokesman Albert Lee said callers can select options via the number pad to get more information on cost when asked by the Star about this complaint.
With files from Stephanie Findlay