Family & Living

September, 30, 2009 - 03:01 PM / ET

5 Tips to Avoid Calling Card Rip-offs

Before you buy your next pre-paid phone card to make cheap call to Mexico from the U.S., here are five questions to ask that will help you avoid being cheated:

1. Are you charged for a call when there is no answer or when the line is busy?

2. Is there a minimum charge for each call?

3. Is there a monthly charge even if you don't use the card?

4. Does the time purchased expire?

5. What is actual rate per minute after taking into account all the hidden fees and charges?

The Hispanic Institute (, a nonprofit advocacy group, estimates that calling cards are cheating consumers out of $1 million a day.

Consumer Action (, based in San Francisco, cites a U.S. Senate report that found the average pre-paid calling card delivered only 50% of the promised minutes, largely because of undisclosed or poorly disclosed terms and fees, such as a 99-cent hang-up fee, or the practice of billing in 3- or 4-minute increments even when calls only last a few seconds.

Fraud-free Internet phone companies are now offering rates much lower than traditional calling cards. The best ones do not charge to set up an account, do not charge monthly fees or connections fees, and make clear there are no hidden costs of any kind.

Choose an Internet phone company that allows you to use any phone – landline, cell or pay phone – to make your calls. And if you plan to use your cell phone, be sure the service works with even the most basic mobile phone without modification, software downloads or changes to the calling plan you have with your cell phone provider.

This public service announcement was brought to you by Rebtel, the Internet phone company that makes it possible to use any phone to call anywhere in the world for just pennies per minute.