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"If you are under 18, you must hang up now," isn't the greeting you'd expect from Verizon Communications' toll-free customer service line.Yet that warning of X-rated conversation is what some customers heard when they dialed a number listed on a recent letter from Verizon informing them of steep increases for some of the company's long-distance rates that are scheduled to go into effect Sept. Verizon's customer service line starts with the prefix 800.
That turned out to be the phone number for Intimate Connections, an adult chat line hosted by Pilgrim Telephone Inc. Pilgrim officials didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
But shortly after a reporter called Monday afternoon asking about the similarity between the two phone numbers, the Intimate Connections phone number was disconnected and a recording directed callers to dial a nonworking number with a 268 prefix for the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
Verizon will send apology notices to all recipients of the letter "posthaste," Verizon spokesman Bob Elek said.
The mixup was reminiscent of a similar incident in July 2000 involving wireless carrier Voicestream, now known as T-Mobile, which printed the wrong prefix to its toll-free number in newspaper ads touting the launch of its service in Florida.
That erroneous phone number happened to connect to a clearinghouse for X-rated chat lines.
The Verizon mailing was sent out last week to customers who use the company as their long-distance carrier but haven't selected a specific calling plan.
Such customers are automatically charged long-distance rates that are sharply higher than rates for most calling plans, including those offered by Verizon itself.
The letter notified them that the rate for in-state and regional out-of-state long-distance calls during off-peak night and weekend hours would jump 7 cents, or 39 percent, to 25 cents a minute, while the off-peak rate for out-of-state calls beyond the Southeast would double to 34 cents.
The rate for in-state and regional out-of-state calls during peak daytime hours would fall by 3 cents to 25 cents.
Elek said such steep charges are "purely a marketing decision" and the vast majority of Verizon's long-distance customers are signed up for plans that offer lower rates.
"These people obviously don't make many calls because they wouldn't be paying a quarter a call," he said.
- Information from Times files was used in this report.