From her small home office in Seattle, Donia Alawi helps customers from around the world find non-pharmaceutical remedies for eczema, a skin condition that once made her own life miserable.
She pays for two numbers on her landline phone. One for business, one personal. But when she contacted me, her business line was gone.
"I woke up one day, wanted to call somebody, and the line was completely dead," explained Alawi.
She immediately called Comcast, her phone company for more than a decade.
"And Comcast said, 'Well, you gave your phone number to CenturyLink,'" she said.
The problem is, Alawi had not made a request to give her number to CenturyLink.
"I was shocked," she said.
After the shock came frustration. For two weeks, Alawi she says she called, complained and tried to get answers. Comcast told her she had to talk to CenturyLink, since CenturyLink submitted the initial request and provided the paper work. Alawi says the customer service rep at CenturyLink told her there was nothing she could do because her phone number had already been given to someone else.
"That was my phone number for more than 15 years, " Alawi said. "How can you tell me somebody else can just take it away from me?"
With Alawi's permission, I contacted both CenturyLink and Comcast to find out what was going on with her account. Turns out CenturyLink made a mistake.
In an email response, spokeswoman Meg Andrews wrote in part:
"CenturyLink received a call to port the number from Comcast to a customer named Celeste. At that time Celeste was transferred to Third Party Verification, that was accepted and was completed. Upon notification that the number was incorrectly ported, CenturyLink worked with Comcast to transfer the number back. CenturyLink's goal is to provide quality customer service, products and a positive customer experience.
After investigating the issue, we determined that the policies and procedures we have in place were not followed. The representative should have escalated the issue. We have have updated our procedures and provided additional training to help ensure this doesn't happen again."
CenturyLink adds that a technical error caused the issue and apologized greatly for the inconvenience to Donia Alawi.
Alawi says she was never told about a port request made by Celeste and doesn't know anyone by that name.
The Federal Communication Commission has specific rules and safeguards to protect consumers during the porting process.
FCC spokesman Michael Snyder says in 2010 the Commission adopted certain standard fields that carriers are required to exchange before a port could happen. Of the 14 mandatory fields, Snyder says 4 are designed to verify that you are actually asking for the port: the ported telephone number, the account number, the zip code, and the agency authority status. The agency authorization status requires the new service provider to certify that you have given them porting authority. Additionally, if you request a pass code on your account, that information must be provided as well.
The FCC adds that some porting disputes may be the result of slamming, where the "new" carrier submits a change without verifying the your intent, as FCC rules require.
If you have a problem involving the porting of a phone number to another carrier- start with the new carrier that submitted the change. If you don't get answers, ask to escalate the issue to a supervisor, or the Carrier Dispute division.