What Happens When You Try to Call a Utility Company but Accidentally Dial a Wrong Number?

Photo credit: Kevin Doncaster, CC BY 2.0.

So… I’ve been calling a bunch of utility companies to set up service in my new apartment. No big deal, right?

Except when I called the electric company, I accidentally misdialed the number. I got the 800 part right, but I tapped 4 instead of 5 in the area code.

The next two minutes were very strange.

First, a recorded voice told me to listen carefully, as some of the menu items might have changed. I will admit that I did not follow this instruction, otherwise I might have noticed that this voice never said “Thank you for calling Alliant Energy.”

Instead, the voice told me that I might be able to receive special pricing—which, again, sounds kind of like what I was expecting—and asked me to press 1 if I was 50 or older; otherwise, press pound.

I pressed pound.

The voice asked me if I was interested in purchasing roadside assistance. I thought it was a little odd that an electric company was offering roadside assistance, but hey, it’s the Midwest, there’s a lot of snow, maybe this is the equivalent of the post office reminding me to register to vote?

I pressed pound to decline roadside assistance, since I don’t yet have a car. (I figured I could always add it later, because I still thought I was on the phone with Alliant Energy—even though this voice hadn’t yet said anything about setting up electricity.)

Then the voice asked me if I wanted $100 in coupons that I could use for local and online businesses. Again, this offer was just close enough to being plausible that I considered it—until the voice told me that these coupons would cost me something like $1.20. (I don’t remember the exact number.) Part of me was like “but you’re still getting $90-something in coupons!” and the other part was all “I WILL NOT PAY FOR COUPONS,” and that part won.

I pressed pound to decline the offer. The voice immediately launched into another offer, and I pressed pound right away because I just wanted to get my electricity set up, thank you, and then I pressed pound several times in a row because the voice kept going, and then the voice jumped ahead and told me I had won a free cruise, and I finally realized I was not on the phone with the electric company.

Does this mean that some individual and/or company anticipated that enough people would misdial the Alliant Energy number in exactly this way? Are other people making this same mistake and then signing up for the roadside assistance or the coupons? (Do they even get those coupons?)

I did a little “investigative journalism” and dialed the number again, this time putting a 6 where I had put the 4 (and where I should have put a 5). I got a message telling me that this toll-free number was not available in my calling area. So it’s not like these people hopped on every possible misdial combination, and maybe my assumption that they’re targeting Midwestern electricity consumers is incorrect.

But it was weird—and I’m curious if anything like that has ever happened to you.

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