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From the late 1980s until around 2005, teenagers who dialed the national hotline used by Teens Teaching AIDS Prevention would reach a call center in Kansas City, Mo., where other youths were waiting to answer questions about the disease.

When that program ended, the number was soon routed to one of National A-1's sex lines.

The Republican National Committee once printed a fundraising mailer with a toll-free calling code and was publicly embarrassed when the calls began ringing in to one of National A-1's chat lines. Shortly after the toll-free number for his auto repair business in Edgewater, Md., was mistakenly canceled by his phone company, it began redirecting customers to an erotic chat service called "Intimate Encounters." "It was pretty embarrassing," Noyes said.

"I had people walking around wearing T-shirts with that number." Capitalizing on fat-finger errors People in the telecommunications industry who are familiar with Prime Tel say that in addition to snapping up familiar 1-800 numbers, the company may be trying to capitalize on people's fat-finger dialing mistakes by acquiring numbers that are just a digit or two away from a major company's number.

In the fall, authorities sent subpoenas to several, including Prime Tel, asking for information on how they acquire numbers and why.

A similar thing happens if you punch in the initial digits of 1-800-Metallica, 1-800-Cadillac, 1-800-Minolta, 1-800-Cameras, 1-800-Worship or 1-800-Whirlpool.Others apparently respond to the come-on and supply their credit card number."I guess enough people go for it that it makes business sense," said Aelea Christofferson, president of ATL Communications, another company that specializes in toll-free services.Federal Communications Commission rules say that "routing multiple toll-free numbers to a single toll-free subscriber" is usually considered hoarding.The FCC has never taken formal action against Prime Tel or National A-1, although federal authorities have expressed renewed interest lately in companies that handle toll-free numbers.Capturing callers who have reached the wrong number — whether because they punched an incorrect digit or dialed a number without realizing it had changed hands — is a "big new industry," she said. That gives it the same power to reserve and assign unused toll-free numbers as big phone companies with millions of customers.Prime Tel Founded in 1995, Prime Tel is one of around 400 companies registered as toll-free service providers for the U. But Prime Tel appears to be amassing numbers predominantly for one closely related partner, National A-1.Glenn Noyes poses for photos at his business, Patriot Auto Services, in Edgewater, Md., Monday, April 18, 2011. As of March, it administered more 800 numbers than any other company, including Verizon and AT&T.Shortly after the toll-free number for Noyes' auto repair business was mistakenly canceled by his phone company, it was snapped up by toll-free service provider Prime Tel and callers were redirected to an erotic chat service called "Intimate Encounters." For years, teenagers across the U. could call a toll-free hotline if they had embarrassing questions about AIDS and safe sex. And many, if not most, of those 1.7 million numbers appear to be used for one thing: redirecting callers to a phone-sex service.The man listed on many government records as the top executive at both Prime Tel and National A-1, Richard Cohen, declined interview requests. They wouldn't have them if they didn't need them," Helein said of Prime Tel's huge pool of numbers.A lawyer for both companies, Charles Helein, would not discuss their business dealings in detail but said Prime Tel isn't breaking any rules or engaging in prohibited practices such as selling numbers or obtaining ones it doesn't intend to use. He said the company's large share hasn't caused any shortages: "Everybody's got all the numbers they need." Helein said the raid last fall was not aimed at Prime Tel.

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