An Ames woman is one of some 150 people who spurred the state’s Consumer Advocate to seek fines against an Indiana phone company for unauthorized long-distance charges. The advocate says the company targeted the elderly. John Bocella spoke for his mother-in-law, saying she noticed something wrong when she got her phone bill from Buzz Telecom.

Bocella says he and his wife looked at the bill and then had his mother-in-law call the company. Bocella says Buzz Telecom reversed the charges, but insisted the woman had agreed to change her long distance service to their company. Bocella says his mother-in-law didn’t think she made the switch, but the company sent a tape indicating she had. Bocella says the tape included his mother-in-law answering several fast yes or no questions in which she unknowingly agreed to switch phone service.

Bocella says while the company reversed the charges — the impact of their action had other consequences. He says it created a sense of “depression” in his mother-in-law as the 85-year-old woman suddenly questioned her ability to handle her own affairs. Bocella works in the Attorney General’s office and got his mother-in-law to file a complaint, and told her it wasn’t her fault.

Bocella says they assured her that she was taken by professional telemarketers. He says his mother-in-law has recovered her confidence. Bocella says she still doesn’t want her name given out in public. The Consumer Advocate is asking the Utilities Board to seek civil penalties, which can be as much as 10-thousand dollars per offense. The advocate also advises Iowans to check their phone bills carefully for any charges that are not authorized.