Mom Tracy Lauren is furious her 15-year-old son ran up a $2000 phone sex bill and no one's accountable. (Account number blurred at her request)
Credits: MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI AGENCY
There, in black and white, was a long list of collect charges from Montreal totally a whopping $2,000. But she doesn't speak to anyone in that city, and neither does her partner. It must be some mistake, she figured, and called Rogers to complain.
They gently told the Scarborough mom to dial the number herself to check it out. And then came the second shock: she had reached a phone sex chat line.
A loud confrontation with her 15-year-old son uncovered the story: her teen had lied about his age and over the last four weeks had surreptitiously been calling one of those sexy come-hither operators he'd seen advertised on late-night TV. He'd dial the number and the sex line operator would then call him back collect. At $2.99 a minute, for a minimum of six-minutes each time, he had racked up four hours worth of expensive dirty talk. "One day he called eight times," says Lauren, 40. "Clearly this was not an accident. He kept calling back."
Not surprisingly, she's furious with her son. "I yelled a lot," she admits.
But he isn't the only target of her anger. She's blaming everyone from the phone company to the chat line and even the police for not doing anything to protect her son.
The 40-year-old software architect is sickened by what her underage child has heard over the last month. "They say you have to be 18 to use it but it's not enforced," his mother complains. "Everybody knows exposing sexual content to a minor is wrong but you can't fight it. My minor was subjected to who knows what kind of raunchy conversation? It's not OK and I don't even have anybody to yell at."
Despite days of digging, Lauren has been unable to track down the nameless company that owns the chat line. And even if she did, no charges would be laid. "I've spoken to five police officers and they say there's been no crime committed because my son lied and said he was 18. That's all that matters."
She's also turned her anger on her phone company.
Sex lines on the Internet at least require a credit card, she says, making it more difficult for minors to use them. But these chats enjoyed by her teen went directly on to her phone bill and she's angry that no one at Rogers bothered to alert her as the charges began to skyrocket. "If they'd warned me after the first $1,000, I could have stopped it."
A Rogers spokesman couldn't comment specifically about Lauren's case but in general, said their privacy policies prevent them from looking at what specific services customers use, but they do usually alert the customer when "usage is unusually high."
After hours of negotiation, Lauren said the company agreed to minimize her exposure. They've also told her they will block the chat line number, but that doesn't offer much comfort. "Unfortunately, there are thousands of them and I can't block them all."
In the US, obscene entertainment can't be provided to callers under 18, even if the underage caller requests it. The penalty is $50,000 for each incident and up to six months in jail. It's unclear whether there's a similar regulation here.
But who are we kidding? If it's not a phone sex chat line, an unsupervised teen with raging hormones can easily access X-rated entertainment in many other ways - from turning on his TV late at night to surfing his computer. Age limitations are laughable. According to GuardChild, 31% of kids ages 12-18 have lied about their age in order to access a porn website. No one is going to verify that they're telling the truth.
So whose job is it to monitor these kids - the service provider, or their parents?
This angry mom would obviously rather blame these companies for not doing more. "It needs to be addressed. Anybody with a phone and a teenager is at risk," Lauren insists. "They say no crime has been committed? I disagree. Any sexual contact with a minor should be a crime and should be investigated."