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Calling cards can be pricey way to phone home - report

May 18, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
People with family or friends overseas spend more than $2 billion a year on prepaid phone cards. But Consumer Reports found some enticing cards can be a pricey way to phone home.

Mary Meza uses phone cards to call her family in the Dominican Republic. But she complains she doesn't always get as much calling time as she expects.

"I get really angry because I think it's not fair," she said.

Consumer Reports analyzed more than 130 prepaid phone cards. Most cost just $2 to $5. They look like bargains, but Consumer Reports found lots of problems.

"Three quarters of the cards we looked at didn't tell you how much it cost to make a call. You usually never found out until you were on the phone," said Robert Tiernan of Consumer Reports.

And Consumer Reports found the amount of calling time varies tremendously. And there can be lots of fees, which may be listed on the back in tiny type. Those prepaid phone card fees can include a fee for connecting or disconnecting or calling on a cellphone or calling from a pay phone. There can even be a daily maintenance fee.

"Fees can really eat into the value of the cards. These were completely drained before we ever made our international call," Tiernan said.

In some cases, Consumer Reports was able to get the fees reversed, but only after calling customer service.

"If you frequently make calls overseas, there are better alternatives," Tiernan said.

You can use Skype on your computer or smartphone to call overseas for modest rates, which are clearly spelled out on Skype's website. And if you and the person you are calling both have Internet, the call can be free.

Consumer Reports says another option for people who regularly call overseas is to use an international calling plan through your cellphone or landline provider. For a small monthly fee, you can get calls for pennies per minute. And unlike many prepaid phone cards, the charges are clearly spelled out.

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