A new telemarketing scheme in Armenia has prompted
minors to go to the phones and their parents to
go to court.
Three months ago ads began appearing on local
television, inviting viewers to dial a local number
to meet friends, have their fortunes told and
play quiz games.
turned to an Armenian court to settle their
dispute over phone bills averaging $862 for
a telemarketing service.
Advertisements for Teleplas LTD feature attractive
young women playing billiards, while a seductive
voice-over invites viewers to dial six numbers
for exciting entertainment. Ads are also appearing
in print media. The advertisement says the fee,
depending on which service is called, is 80 drams
every 15 seconds, adding up to more than 50 cents
Ruzanna Mayilyan's 16-year-old son, Vladimir,
is proof that the advertisement is effective.
She learned just how effective, when she got her
latest telephone bill.
"I was speechless when I was given the bill
and was demanded to pay the amount of 723,000
drams (about $1,250)," Ruzanna says. "It
appeared that when I was out my son made use of
Teleplas services and now we have got ourselves
into a mess."
It is a mess many are now trying to get out of
by filing an action against Teleplas, charging
that its ad is misleading and offers no safeguard
against use by minors.
Housekeeper Christine Teryan was the first of
14 citizens to take legal action (while more than
300 have appealed to the consumer agency). Between
May 10 and July 10, her 13-year old son, Aram,
ran up a phone bill of 647,000 drams (about $1,115).
Parents who have complained face telephone bills
"I don't think I failed to fulfill my parental
duties and wasn't attentive to the daily needs
of my son," Christine says. "The good
grades he has prove it. He studies very well,
nobody complained of his behavior. The advertisement
simply misled him and he couldn't possibly calculate
that if 15 seconds make 82 drams (about 14 cents)
then 10 minutes or an hour would make a tidy sum."
Khachatryan says it is impossible to block
minors from the service.
The Teryans were represented in court by David
Sandukhchyan who argued that Teleplas' claims
were dishonest "as the company had to take
into consideration that a minor could make use
of the facility and had to take measures that
weren't taken." The attorney also complained
that the television advertisement uses the terms
"boys" and "girls" as a means
of soliciting the young.
Representing Teleplas, Artak Khachatryan said
that it is technically impossible to prevent the
access of minors, and in any case there is no
law in Armenia prohibiting access of such services
"If we would have mentioned that anyone
under 18 is not allowed to have access do you
think that the under-age wouldn't call,"
Khachatryan said. "On the contrary, they
would be even more interested as the forbidden
fruit is always more attractive. Besides this
is not phone sex. This is simply an acquaintance
club that everybody can use."
Khachatryan argued further that the service interrupts
conversations every 10 minutes to remind callers
that they are being billed.
"We have accounts that show 20 calls a day,"
he said. "It means that the person is not
misled but realizes what he is doing and how much
he or she has got to pay."
Several complaints have been filed with various
consumer-action groups in Armenia. Last month
the Armenian Public Relations Association held
a press conference to advise customers of the
service. The vice-president of the association
said the group received more than 100 complaints
The association prepared a complaint form to
help citizens prepare complaints for court action.
It also lobbied the phone company, Armentel, to
restore services to those whose lines had been
disconnected because of bills accrued by use of
Some who have taken legal action are not optimistic
the court will find in their favor.
"It is necessary to fight against this disaster
with the whole nation united and not to apply
to court individually and fail," says Susanna
Marijanyan, one of the plaintiffs.
Ruzanna Mayilyan says her son has become addicted
to the phone service, and especially to talking
to a psychologist he met in one of the services.
She says he has developed strange behavior as
a result of his involvement with Teleplas.
The mother says Teleplas is worse than casinos,
because with gambling at least a customer has
to have money in order to enter. But with the
phone service, the surprise debt only comes later.