Company buys up 1.7 million 1-800 numbers, uses many for phone sex lines


AP reports that PrimeTel Communications has, for the last 13 years, been buying up every desirable 800 number on the market. They behave not unlike domain name prospectors who do the same with web addresses, only they convert many of these numbers into phone sex lines.

The company now controls 1.7 million toll-free numbers, which represent about 25% of all 800 numbers in the U.S. and Canada. Among them: 1-800-Metallica, 1-800-Cadillac, 1-800-Minolta, 1-800-Cameras, 1-800-Worship and 1-800-Whirlpool.

AP reports that the connection between the speculation activity and the phone-porn activity is this: A-1 Advertising, an actual phone sex business, shares a building, owners, and executives, with the company doing the 800 number buying. More:

Critics of the company say it isn't the sex that bothers them, but the acquisition of so many numbers. Bill Quimby, whose company,, specializes in helping businesses obtain easy-to-remember digits to connect with customers, said it can be a challenge to find a good match because PrimeTel has gobbled up such an outsized share of the supply.

"They started by getting numbers for phone sex, then getting good numbers in general, then they started taking all phone numbers," he said.

A spokesman for the FCC, David Fiske, would not comment on whether the agency had ever examined PrimeTel's activities but said the commission is actively enforcing rules on number hoarding. PrimeTel appears to have benefited by grabbing numbers associated with famous names, like 1-800-Beatles, or numbers that have recently been canceled but are still advertised widely.

From the late 1980s until around 2005, teenagers who dialed the national hotline used by Teens Teaching AIDS Prevention would reach a call center in Kansas City, Mo., where other youths were waiting to answer questions about the disease. When that program ended, the number was soon routed to one of National A-1's sex lines. But the AIDS hotline number is still publicized by public health groups.

When New York City's Fire Department relinquished its toll-free fire safety hotline a few years ago because of an administrative slip-up, PrimeTel grabbed it the moment it became available. Soon enough, 1-800-FIRETIP was ringing into one of National A-1's phone-sex lines. The same thing happened to the Cook County Jail in Chicago when it canceled its toll-free inmate information line, and to rape counseling hotlines in Maine and New Mexico.

Porn company collecting 1-800 numbers (Associated Press)

Via Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who is totally awesome on Twitter. She comments,

I would have thought with so much free porn available on the internet that phone sex would have gone the way of the dodo bird.

You mean 1-800-SEXY DODO.

(via Consumerist, photo by Rob Beschizza via BB Flickr Pool)


  1. I wish Optimum Online would take advantage of’s services. Its commercials air around New York City, and have the WORST dischordant, ear-bleedingly-offensive attempts to make its convoluted phone number memorable.

  2. Oh my goodness, who knew Dr Ruth was so happening? Well, obviously someone did, but not me. Awesome. I hope I’m even half that cool when I’m her age!

  3. Two surprises in this:
    1) That it really matters whether a number is toll-free or not anymore. I haven’t paid a long-distance charge in years, either for cellphone or landline — it’s all just lump-sum or based on minutes, not distance.

    2) That anyone calls sex lines. Seriously? Is it 1992?

    1. My thoughts exactly. I’m amazed that phone-sex lines are still popular enough to make this even remotely profitable.

  4. I wonder how valuable these will be when people who only interact with smart phones aren’t able to remember which numbers go with which letters? I’ve had a smartphone for only 3 years and already I’d hesitate to text on an old-style phone if there weren’t guide letters.

    1. The letters are usually printed next to the numbers on the phone on dumbphones and at least on my smartphone, they are there on the on-screen keypad also.

  5. Those numbers sure have a lot of digits. Where I live, only the first 10 digits count (000-000-0000), so you can’t get a number like 1-800-Whirlpool. You can only get 1-800-whirlpo. Trailing digits don’t count. This means the numbers listed in the article wouldn’t infringe on trademarks. As a bonus, they would also allow you to include any other digits you want: 1-800-whirlpoop, 1-800-whirlpoke, 1-800-whirlpostapocalypse. There are infintely many combinations.

    Of course it COULD be that the article is exaggerating.

  6. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of trucks with the service number, 1-800-eat-shit. I keep calling, but nobody ever answers. :(

  7. The reason for these ending up sex lines is the FCC does not permit number squatting. This company has to put something on them or release the number. These numbers are for sale and probably are all just linked into a few sex call centers. Why phone sex? It is probably the only thing that they actually think they can monetize on a wrong number while holding these numbers for sale.

  8. I actually use 1-800 (or 866) numbers in business dealings because it means getting a direct line: cost is irrelevant. I don’t call random 1-800 numbers.

    In reply to carljohnson and MadMolecule, there are still a lot of losers in the world who would use sex lines.

  9. I like how the pic above uses a phone number that’s an anagram of 867-5309… though I now know what song will be in my head all day.

  10. I thought 1-900 was reserved for all porn lines. Am I wrong? I thought 1-800 & 1-888 were now the toll free numbers. How can you charge for sex lines on a 1-800 number?

    1. I thought 1-900 was reserved for all porn lines. Am I wrong? I thought 1-800 & 1-888 were now the toll free numbers. How can you charge for sex lines on a 1-800 number?

      Ask for credit card info.

  11. Oh don’t worry. The free market will fix it. Just like it fixed the mobile phone industry.

  12. We’ve never had the obsession that Americans have had for wordifying telephone numbers here in the UK – the nearest thing we have are memorable number combinations like 0800 118 118

    On a related note, I find it amusing that we are forgoing sensible word names for websites and replacing them with obscure, albeit shorter, letter/number/case combinations such as

  13. Those numbers just happen to be an anagram of “867-5309”
    That had to be intentional…

  14. >> 1-800-Whirlpool sex line

    Forget that. I want to hear a phone sex fantasy with that oh so hot and lonely Maytag repairman. – swoon –

  15. OMG- Dr. Ruth Westheimer- what a great Twitter feed. I want a grandmother like that in my next life.

  16. Hey everyone, welcome to the party! Those of us who’ve worked in the adult industry have known things like this for years because this type of stuff has gone on for years. It’s business. No different than the shady shit companies like GE, AT&T and General Motors do. Is it illegal? Nope. Does it fall into a gray area? Maybe. Of course, there’s sex involved, so you and your Christian morals better be offended and you better put an end to this blight on society!

  17. “…and that’s why it’s absolutely imperative to have safe sex every time, which means always wear a condom on your huge…throbbing…manhood…oh my god…you are so…”

  18. The intent of the phone number hoarders isn’t to trick people into calling the numbers, it’s basically holding a brand hostage.

    If I own a toll free phone number that has another company’s brand name (1-800-CADILLAC), that company may try to “buy” the number from me – which isn’t technically allowed, but there are loopholes. If I quote to high a rate, they’ll just skip the offer.

    If I make it into a porn line, then Cadillac now has customers trying to call them and getting porn instead, which makes it a much more important item to buy that line. That’s the kind of situation that gets CEOs very angry and telling their Marketing Departments to get it fixed, no matter the cost. Voila.

    1. I think people understand that, but what makes less sense is why in this day and age this matters. I can understand trying “” to see if that’s the right site, because it probably is – in other words domain squatting makes sense (not that I don’t think it’s scummy).

      But who today would call 1-800-CADILLAC? Who at any time ever, really, would call that number? It doesn’t make sense. Just think about it and try to come up with a reasonable circumstance where anyone would call that number.

      1. But who today would call 1-800-CADILLAC?

        When I was a lad, we had phone mnemonics like, “How many cookies did Andrew eat?” “ANdrew 8-8000.”

  19. ARGH! Just read through all the comments to see if anybody else noticed, and wouldn’t you know it? The last person did.

    Well, that’ll teach me to start at the beginning. “8-6-7-5-3-0-9!”

  20. blatant profiteering on usage of numbers that are still being advertised so that when people dial in for the advice they’re expecting, they get hit with a sex line and are billed for the minimum connect time even if they manage to hang up fast after realising what they’ve dialed isn’t what they were expecting…

    it’s like domain typo squatters who buy up typo versions of common major domain names and then profit from the advertising served up

    basically it’s profitting from false representation and should be illegal…

  21. True story I swear. My stock broker, part of a large national group, based in Florida had an 800# to his office. Being in California and the 90s it was a convenient way to reach him. At some point, and I never understood why, the 800# was no longer operational. Instead, and I swear this is true, you were connected with a husky, breathless voice welcoming you to 1-800-FISTING.
    I asked them if they knew this had happened and, after a long uncomfortable pause he say yes, and that some of their older customers were not very happy. Guess not!

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