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Capturing callers who have reached the wrong number — whether because they punched an incorrect digit or dialed a number without realizing it had changed hands — is a "big new industry," she said. That gives it the same power to reserve and assign unused toll-free numbers as big phone companies with millions of customers.

Prime Tel Founded in 1995, Prime Tel is one of around 400 companies registered as toll-free service providers for the U. But Prime Tel appears to be amassing numbers predominantly for one closely related partner, National A-1.

There is nothing illegal about using toll-free phone services to promote adult entertainment, and callers aren't charged unless they supply their credit card information.

Over the years, though, Prime Tel has been hit with lawsuits and complaints alleging that it is violating federal rules banning toll-free service providers from hoarding digits.

Some numbers reach advertisements for a mortgage brokerage based in New Jersey.

Others promote a dieting website or a travel reservation service.

In the fall, authorities sent subpoenas to several, including Prime Tel, asking for information on how they acquire numbers and why.

When New York City's Fire Department relinquished its toll-free fire safety hotline a few years ago because of an administrative slip-up, Prime Tel grabbed it the moment it became available.

Industry experts said Prime Tel also holds a dominant share of numbers with other toll-free codes, like 888 and 866, giving it several million numbers overall.

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The man listed on many government records as the top executive at both Prime Tel and National A-1, Richard Cohen, declined interview requests. They wouldn't have them if they didn't need them," Helein said of Prime Tel's huge pool of numbers.

A lawyer for both companies, Charles Helein, would not discuss their business dealings in detail but said Prime Tel isn't breaking any rules or engaging in prohibited practices such as selling numbers or obtaining ones it doesn't intend to use. He said the company's large share hasn't caused any shortages: "Everybody's got all the numbers they need." Helein said the raid last fall was not aimed at Prime Tel.

The Republican National Committee once printed a fundraising mailer with a toll-free calling code and was publicly embarrassed when the calls began ringing in to one of National A-1's chat lines. Shortly after the toll-free number for his auto repair business in Edgewater, Md., was mistakenly canceled by his phone company, it began redirecting customers to an erotic chat service called "Intimate Encounters." "It was pretty embarrassing," Noyes said.

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