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Consumer Updates

Prison Call Solutions incarcerates consumers’ money

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Better Business Bureau
December 15, 2011 | 2,986 views | Post a comment

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Susan Blake-Caldwell realized her error almost immediately. She was trying to set up a service to contact a loved one who was incarcerated, and thought she had found the company the prison had recommended.

Instead, the Canyon, Texas, resident set up an account with Prison Call Solutions, an Austin company that has racked up 23 complaints with Better Business Bureau since August.

Prison Call Solutions promises on its website to lower consumers’ costs on calls from prisons by 80 percent. The service works by setting up a relay system that allows incarcerated persons to call their loved ones using a local telephone number, supposedly saving on long-distance charges.

Consumers told BBB they paid Prison Call Solutions upfront fees to activate a service they were never able to use, either because it did not work or the prison facility would not contract with the company. When the consumers tried to get a refund, they were transferred to various departments or disconnected.

BBB has not received an answer from the company about any of the complaints filed by consumers nationwide or concerns about the company’s advertising, including the discount claims and a satisfaction guarantee.

Blake-Caldwell said she tried to get a refund within 15 minutes of signing up with Prison Call Solutions, once she realized she had contacted the wrong company.

“It was over $96,” she said. “But what bothered me is that the company seemed to be nothing more than a store front to rip people off. I would be surprised if anyone actually got service from them.”

Initially, representatives promised Blake-Caldwell a full refund, but she never received confirmation from the company. When she called back, she was told the supervisor was out of the office and would not be back for days.

After that, she said, representatives stopped answering the phone. She made a series of phone calls to different departments. With each call, representatives transferred her multiple times and eventually the call dropped.

“They begin hanging up on me,” she said.

Cindy VanderPeyl said she also came across Prison Call Solutions in a case of mistaken identity.

Her daughter had a friend she was trying to contact in prison and was dealing with a company named PCS to provide service. When she needed to add minutes to her service, VanderPeyl found Prison Call Solutions online and thought it was the same company.

After activating service, she found out the facility where her daughter’s friend was incarcerated did not accept calls from Prison Call Solutions.

“They are advertising a product, and basically, it’s unusable,” VanderPeyl said. “I did try calling Prison Call Solutions several times. I paid for service and I received a number that is unusable.”

Prison Call Solutions advertises a satisfaction guarantee on its website, but does not provide details for how the company will compensate a dissatisfied customer.

VanderPeyl said, like Blake-Caldwell, when she called requesting a refund, representatives transferred the call and then hung up on her. She eventually gave up.

Blake-Caldwell, however, persisted with her attempts to contact the company. When she was finally able to connect, she said she felt intimidated by the man on the other end of the line.

“It was like he was threatening me. ‘I know where (your loved one) is, and if you don’t leave us alone, we’re going to retaliate,’” she said. “He had that mean sound in his voice.”

She reported the company to the Austin Police Department. A detective tried contacting the company and had the same issues Blake-Caldwell encountered.

“He said he went by (the company’s advertised address) ... but apparently there’s nobody there,” she said.

BBB investigators found that Prison Call Solutions’ website contains an address that is actually a mailbox rented from another company.

In addition, the company did not register with the Texas Secretary of State until Aug. 23. BBB received its first complaint against the company Aug. 4.

VanderPeyl and Blake-Caldwell each said they would advise others to stay far away from Prison Call Solutions.

“I think it’s totally bogus,” VanderPeyl said.

For those who need a service to contact a loved one in prison, BBB offers the following tips:

· Contact the facility first. Different facilities will contract with different communications services. Call to ensure the company you are considering will work with the facility in question.

· Read the fine print. Before you pay for anything, check the company’s refund policy and ask what to do if the service does not work.

· Get it in writing. Make sure any guarantees or discounts and their limitations are spelled out in a written contract. Do not accept a verbal promise from a sales representative.

· Start with trust. View the company’s BBB Business Review for background information and complaint statistics.

To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit
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