What is a Collect Call?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
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A collect call is a phone call in which the called party pays the charges, rather than the calling party, as is conventional. Collect calling is available in most regions of the world, and it can be a very valuable tool in emergency situations. The process for making a collect call varies depending on the nation, but can usually be accomplished in an emergency by dialing 0 for the operator, and requesting that the operator put through a collect call.

When someone makes a collect call, the phone rings on the other end, and when someone answers the phone, he or she is informed that someone is attempting to make a collect call. If the called party accepts the call and the charges, the calling party will be put through. The charges for collect calls can be more expensive than those for regular calls, especially when the call crosses an international border, and the called party may want to request information about the rates before accepting the call.


Historically, collect calls were routed through the operator. Today, computer systems usually handle collect calls, and dialing 0 for the operator may result in being sent through a computer system. People can also dial toll-free numbers which facilitate collect calls for a fee. It is a good idea to be aware of the charges associated with such numbers ahead of time, so that if one needs to make a collect call at some point, a low-fee service can be selected to reduce the burden on the called party.

With the rise in cell phone usage, collect calls are less common than they once were, but they are still utilized. Some people don't use cell phones, or their phones may be stolen, and in some regions of the world, service is spotty. Since people often make collect calls when they are in a crisis, as might be the case when someone is traveling and his or her belongings are stolen, a cell phone may not be readily available. Travelers may want to be aware that embassies usually accept collect calls from their citizens.

This type of call is also known in some regions as a reverse charge call. Typically, the charges for the call show up on the called party's phone bill. If the call was handled by a third party company, the phone company collects the fees and passes them on to the company which facilitated the call. People should be aware that charges are not incurred until the called party accepts the charges, and that people have been known to use scams with collect calls, so it is important to ask to hear the calling party's voice before accepting the charges. Usually, the calling party can state his or her name to confirm identity. Collect calls can also be placed through TDD systems for the deaf.


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Post 2

I must have a number that's very similar to someone else's, because I get a lot of collect calls from prisons or jails. The phone will ring during evening hours, and it will usually be a collect call from an inmate trying to reach a family member or a friend on the outside.

I never accept the charges, and I've heard some stories about the exorbitant cost of collect calls from correctional facilities. The companies that provide prison collect call service can charge several dollars a minute, I've heard. The corrections department collects some of that profit.

Post 1

With all of these new cellular phone services available, I wonder how many people actually make a collect call these days. I can't even find a traditional payphone or a phone booth in my hometown any more. I remember when I was much younger I used to make a few collect calls to my parents if I needed help, but I haven't made one in years. People are more willing to let others borrow their cellphones to make long distance calls these days.

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