Do you remember having to make collect calls, in the days before cell phones? If you grew up in the 1980s and particularly in the 1990s, you may have been familiar with the ubiquitous commercials for 1-800-COLLECT, featuring celebrities. Below is one such commercial, featuring The Simpsons.
Sound familiar now? I don't remember using this service very often. I only thought about after seeing this refrigerator magnet I got in college. Our resident advisers gave us a care package when we first moved into our dorm rooms. It included this magnet, which I still have today:
According to this link from 2014, the service was still in business and a customer attempted to use it, resulting in the following:
The $42.55 call
An Ars reader wrote in this week with his tale of woe. After forgetting his cell phone at home, he traveled from Las Vegas to California and had to place a call back to his home landline. So he located a payphone and found that, so strong were the company's early ads, he still associated the 1-800-COLLECT number with reasonable collect call rates.
He dialed and placed a 6 minute call. When his home phone bill arrived in a couple weeks, it showed a third party charge for $42.55—$33.93 for the call itself, with the balance for "cost recovery fees" and the like. (The charge originated with Network Operator Services, which 1-800-COLLECT uses to bill some of its services.)
The reader was outraged. "There are unscrupulous carriers that charge even more than $42.55 from 1-800-COLLECT, whose website claims it is a 'trusted and recognized brand'?" he wondered. Similar complaints aren't hard to find.
Who knew? It seems services like this have all but vanished thanks to the advent of cell phones.
I can recall having to use a payphone at school in the 1980s, but I believe that was before these sort of services existed or became common. I would call collect, if I had no (or not enough) money on hand for the phone charges, which increased over time. I recall it getting to be up to a quarter. To call collect, I just had to tell the operator who would then ask the person being phoned, "Will you accept the charges?"
Remember all this?