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*Updated with clarificatication on a Chicago Tourism number.
Dialing 1-800-Chicago won't direct to anything Chicago-centric.
Callers to that number, and scores of other 1-800 numbers like it, will be greeted with a recording of sultry music and a woman's voice offering to connect callers with "the area's sexiest students, housewives and working girls" for $2.99 per minute.
The 800 number is one of many amassed by a Philadelphia company called PrimeTel Communications to redirect callers to phone-sex services, the Associated Press discovered. The Chicago number is among several directed to phone-sex lines operated by National A-1, a company that shares an office building with PrimeTel.
PrimeTel has gained control of nearly a quarter of all the 1-800 numbers in the U.S. and Canada during the past 13 years, the AP reports. The company quietly grabs the numbers as soon as previous users cancel them.
The 1-800-Chicago number (800-244-2246) appeared on a flier for a mayor's conference from 2004 that took place in Chicago, but a spokeswoman from the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture office said those old materials contained a typo, and that the number was never used for the tourism office. The spokeswoman said the city instead once used 1-877-Chicago and stopped using it last year.
PrimeTel administered more 1-800 numbers than any other company as of March, and many of the 1.7 million numbers appear to be used for redirecting callers to a phone-sex service. The company also apparently scooped up the toll-free inmate information line at the Cook County Jail after the Chicago jail canceled it.
It is not known how many have accidentally or purposely called 1-800-Chicago or how many either hang up or supply their credit card number for the service. The AP found that similar erotic messages are heard when dialing the initial digits of 1-800-Metallica, 1-800-Cadillac and 1-800-Worship.
Using the 800 numbers to promote such services isn't illegal. The message at 800-Chicago urges callers under 18 to hang up immediately, and people aren't charged just for calling.
Complaints have been filed against PrimeTel, though, alleging the company violates Federal Communications Commission rules that say, "routing multiple toll-free numbers to a single toll-free subscriber" is usually considered hoarding.
The FCC has not taken formal action against PrimeTel or National A-1 but has taken a renewed interest in them.