Where Did all the 800 Numbers Go?


We are often asked by customers for “vanity” toll free numbers:  a number that has digits which have special significance such as spelling their name or business.  When we look up the number in SMS/800 database that manages the allocation of toll free numbers, even the most obscure combinations seem to be taken.  The reason?  Phone sex.

There are around 1.7m 800 numbers out of 7.9m  issued in total that are controlled by Primetel or their affiliate National A-1.  Most of the numbers they have accumulated are directed to phone sex lines charging $2.99 a minute for adult chat.  When an 800 is disconnected for whatever reason, these companies  snap it up, presumably hoping to get calls intended for the previous number owner.  All it takes is a tiny percentage of callers who get directed by mistake to the adult chat lines to pull out their credit card and chat for a few minutes at $3 a minute to cover the costs…although why someone who had dialed 1-800-WORSHIP would be so easily persuaded defeats me?

FCC rules prohibit hoarding of numbers, but so far the feds have not addressed this business practice head on, instead  expanding the pool of toll free numbers.  The original 800 toll free area code was introduced in 1967 by AT&T.  As 800 numbers ran into short supply,1- 888 was added in 1996,  1-877 in 1998, 1-866 in 2000, 1-855 in 2010 and 1-844 in 2013.  Primetel/National A-1 hold a similarly high proportion of 866,877 and 888 numbers.  Although many of our customers who request toll free numbers want the prestige of a true 800 number,in most cases vanity numbers are only available as 1-855s.

Some analysts estimate that the value of these  numbers exceed $1bn.  That takes  lot of adult chat to pay back.