Is it legal to buy and sell numbers?

Here’s an email with a question I got recently that I think other people may run into and should be addressed here:

Bill, could you please answer this question: is it legal for a person to stockpile lots of toll free numbers and re-sell them to the highest bidder? I’m talking about a man who has hundreds of numbers who then tries to sell them for a hundred thousand dollars or to lease them for thousands of dollars per month. Is this legal?

Thanks for the question, Grassroots. First of all, I’m not a lawyer. I avoid lawyers as much as possible. I can give you some general input about the industry but if you have need a real legal answer you need to talk to a real legal person, called an attorney.
selling 800 numbers?
There are regulations are against “hoarding and warehousing.” The regulations are designed to prevent the type of squatting and resale that you see with domain names. Basically the way I interpret that is that you can’t be in the business of buying and selling phone numbers which is kind of like saying that you can’t be a car dealer if it were the automotive industry. But that isn’t the same thing as saying you can’t ever sell your car. Just because I want to sell my car, which I got for legitimate business reasons, not for the purpose of reselling, that doesn’t make me a car dealer even if I get paid for it.

The people who say “its illegal to sell numbers” never quote any regulation because there is no regulation (or law). And almost always have ulterior motives too. They want you to have to “rent” a number from them because they know that the more you advertise THEIR number the more at their mercy you become.

This leads to the ways that number “brokers” (which I politely call Squatters, to avoid reminding them that what they are doing is illegal) get around the regulations. The most common loop hole they hide in is that they are “renting” or “leasing” their numbers. They usually do this in conjunction with regional routing so that they can theoretically rent numbers to multiple different people or at least keep one small part, even if it’s just Canada, or Alaska or something, for themselves. In reality many “shared use” companies have a small percent of their numbers active for a customer (hoarding?) and an even smaller percent with more than one customer (which isn’t really shared use then is it?).

Another way they get around the regulations is that they combine a toll free number with a domain name and then they are selling a marketing package, business concept or even an existing business. It’s hard to dispute that it’s legal to sell a business with a phone number since it would be impossible to say that you can’t include the business phone numbers when a business is sold. But like any loop hole, if you are doing something just to get around a law by a technicality, that doesn’t make it right or totally legit either.

It’s probably also helpful to point out that all of the regulations are aimed at the seller, not the buyer, because the buyers are big phone companies (can you think of a big phone company that doesn’t have a good vanity number – you don’t think they got them without paying someone do you?) or really big companies in almost every industry.

In reality however, if there’s nobody enforcing a regulation than it doesn’t matter very much how thin of an excuse they give. And that has certainly been the case for many years, but doesn’t mean the FCC won’t wake up and start enforcing that tomorrow. I believe there are pressures that may change in the future and my advice is always to pretend that everything you do is being watched. That’s because even if nobody’s paying any attention right now, they can always go back and look at the history of transfers, even years from now.

I believe the biggest conflicts and problems arise when the lines get blurred between phone companies and end users or owners. When vanity number businesses which claim to be the “owners” or end users become Resporgs or responsible organizations so they can get numbers directly from the pool, or when Resporgs start to act like “end users” it tends to create a conflict. They want to combine the rights of the end user with the power of a phone company but in the end, they almost always end up cheating the system, claiming it’s OK because of some technicality and ultimately hurting the consumer, which I think is the point to your question.

How do I fit into the equation? I admit that I don’t fit into the normal mold or models that most other companies follow. I’m essentially the only toll free number “search service.” I charge a small one time “search fee” to help end users find good numbers. I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a unique system to find better numbers faster and easier than any other phone company. Regular phone companies don’t charge anything up front to get a number not because that doesn’t cost them anything, but because they make their money from the ongoing use. I don’t provide the ongoing service. That is fine, but it doesn’t give regular phone companies any incentive to help their customers get a good or better numbers, which is why regular phone companies tend to do a lousy job of helping customers.

That’s also why there’s such a need for our service. I don’t charge anything up front to do the search. Instead I just charge a small one time “search fee” only if we find a number that the end user wants. We activate the number faster than anyone else, give them better proof of ownership than anyone else, we give them free temporary service to get it started and then transfer the numbers to whatever company they want to use it with. It’s also important to point out that I do NOT blur the line combining phone company capabilities with end user rights.

I’m NOT “selling” numbers any more than your local phone company is selling you a local phone number simply because they charge a set up fee, even when no physical work is needed beyond flipping a switch in the phone company. I don’t charge for numbers based on their value. Even our premium numbers are a flat fee based on the category they are in, and the vast majority of my fees are for just $49 and we are never transferring a number that we “own” to someone else. We are merely activating a number for the “customer” or “end user” like any other phone company. Our fee is technically a “Search fee” because that’s what we spend 90% of our time and resources for. That’s also why people come to and use our site, to “search.”

Regular phone companies follow what I call a “hosting” business model because they are making their money from the ongoing service or use of the number. That makes sense because the ongoing service is much more expensive than my one time “search fee”. But as a marketer, I know that the number makes a greater difference to the bottom line success of your marketing than the difference from one phone company to another. Regular phone companies don’t understand that. And no regular phone company could afford to invest and develop the type of system that I have just for their customers. So it makes good business sense to separate the number searching from the ongoing use, at least for the customers you really want a better number.

Another interesting Forbes article from a while ago also talked about the big money in toll free numbers and how the FCC is standing in the way of that.

I think this answer went a little beyond the initial intent of the question but I just want be clear and up front about as much as possible even in an industry of people who tend to use the shadows to get away with things that aren’t exactly right. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t get a number from whoever you want. I personally think that toll free numbers should probably be able to be bought and sold more openly. But my mission is just try to help as many people get good numbers as fairly and efficiently as possible.

-Bill

    1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (9 votes, average: 2.67 out of 5)
    Loading ... Loading ...

    19 Comments »

    jill (1 comments.) says:
    December 23, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    From what I am understanding after researching this a little bit, is that it is YOU Bill Quimby that is skirting the law by selling toll free numbers for a fee – this is contrary to the FCC policy.

    Perhaps you are getting away with it, like you said because you are operating in a niche market, so no one is watching you. But from your writings, it definantly sounds like YOU are the one that is doing something illegal.

    You have NO service to offer except registration of a ‘vanity’ number for me for a fee of $49.99. Without paying that fee (or a higher one) then you will not allow me to obtain a toll free number. Is that correct?

    Apparently you have become your own ‘RESPORG’ for the sole purpose of selling vanity phone numbers.

      Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
      December 29, 2007 at 4:35 am

      Jill,

      I’m glad you wrote this comment. I started to respond to it, but there was just too much to say about your comments here so I made a whole new post right from your comment here. Take a look at
      http://www.tollfreenumbers.com/blogs/are-we-skirting-the-law-or-selling-numbers.html

      Please note that I didn’t change or alter your comments in any way. I just showed how they are clearly and completely wrong in so many ways. I simply destroyed them with clear logic and showed them to be utterly rediculous. It’s not personal, it’s just that you are making serious false allegations that deserve to be defended, not require a strong response.

        Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
        December 29, 2007 at 12:39 pm

        It turns out that “Jill” or whoever he or she really is, is a comment spammer from Houston Texas using theplanet.com. His or her IP address is 74.52.215.194 and here’s their Google results for “74.52.215.194″

        They also posted negative feedback about our new video here too.

        I’ll leave it up because I’ve already used that as a jumping off point for the other post. But I wanted to mention that because it does explain his or her attitude a little and show how shallow her comments are.

          Mark A. DiPrete says:
          March 24, 2008 at 3:32 pm

          I want to sell my toll free numbers they are great 800,888 numbers. Any advise were to sell them?

            Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
            March 24, 2008 at 11:51 pm

            Hi Mark,

            Unfortnately there is no central site or place to go to sell numbers. Several people list them on ebay, but how many they actally sell is a different thing, because most have very little traffic let alone any bids.

            If you’re going to list them on ebay which is probably the easiest way, you have to do some type of direct promotion too because I don’t think you can rely on the amount of people that happen to wander through that are looking for that particular number. Try doing some classified advertising in the back of an industry trade publication that targets your audience. Or do some PR and get an article or mention of it in something. Go to a convention for the industry your number fits for and hand out business cards with it on it.

            Some people in the vanity number business make websites, which can be helpful if you’re good at building websites. The more collateral material you make the better, because in many ways it’s only worth what you make it appear to be worth. A nice logo and a domain name definitely make it worth more, but don’t do all of this for a mediocre name.

            Some of this ties in with an article I’m working on about how to maximize the value of a number, which is also what you’re trying to do when you want to sell it.

              Gil Holloway (3 comments.) says:
              May 21, 2008 at 10:22 am

              Does anyone have the specific FCC citation with respect to selling telephone numbers…the exact document name, page and reference? This will make the alleged regulations a lot easier to find and evaluate.

                Ken says:
                August 23, 2008 at 12:10 pm

                I have an easy to remember toll free # for sale! How do i go about it?
                Thanks
                Ken

                  Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
                  August 23, 2008 at 12:24 pm

                  Hi Ken,

                  For a nice numeric number you might be able to just list it on ebay. I don’t think vanity numbers for specific niches work very well on ebay because they appeal to too small of a market. Ebay is big, but if you have a good number for hair removal for instance, the amount of people on ebay that will see your listing isn’t that high and when you figure the percentage of people that are in the business of hair removal it drops to almost nothing.

                  The difficult part of nice numeric numbers is that they don’t have a target audience but you have a higher likelihood of someone being interested in a nice numeric number in a non-targeted audience like ebay. Ebay could be slightly targeted if you have the right keywords in the listing, but its just not the place that people go to when they’re looking for a toll free number. But unfortunately there isn’t really any central spot to offer numbers.

                  Bill

                    Anonymous says:
                    January 6, 2010 at 8:04 am

                    Bill you guys are awsome.Tell Jill to “chill”. Mike Leach (1800552help)

                      HELP NEEDED says:
                      August 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm

                      Bill, I hope you are still responding to this blog, I have recently been contacted about one of my 800 # that I have been using for 20 years, the number does not mean anything to me as I now have a new 800 # that is vanity # for my company. This individual wants to buy my old # because of what it spells. Can I legally sell it if he contacted me? Please keep in mind I would never have thought of selling it until I was contacted.

                      Thank you

                        Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
                        August 11, 2010 at 5:25 pm

                        Dear Help Needed,

                        You’re the epitomy of when it’s appropriate to give up your number and totaly reasonable to be compensated for doing so. You’re not allowed to go into the business of buying and selling numbers. But just because someone asks to buy your car, doesn’t make you a car dealer.

                        As long as you think the price and amount is appropriate, go for it. You weren’t using it and they will be able to turn the otherwise unused item, into a valuable asset to their organization. So it’ll be good for you, for them, and the consumer. You had it for legitimate business purposes and didn’t get it for the purpose of selling it.

                        Bill Quimby

                          fran kaye says:
                          August 19, 2010 at 10:17 am

                          Someone is calling and harrassing me via an 800 number. The phone rings and it hangs up as I have my answering machine on. Then I call *69 and get the call back number. I call it and get some conversation about music and hold on as operators are busy and they keep telling you to hold on and on and on and you never get connected and then you just hang up. How can these calls be traced? Or can I go to the FCC and get some help. This person keeps changing the 800 to 866 or 888.

                            Smith says:
                            September 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm

                            Hello,

                            I have a cell phone number that gets calls all the time looking for a Spanish Business. Turns out there is a 1-800 number version of my cell phone, but I get regular calls daily on my cell phone number looking for the 1-800 business. I think they are based in my area code. How much should I sell my number for. It is a major company that broadcasts on a major network. I am not a greedy person, but I have often thought of selling this number as I am bombarded daily with wrong numbers, and they often add up my cell phone minutes. I feel like some sort of compensation should be headed my way. I support a family of four with a very meager salary, one that has been cut over the last 3 years and will be cut 5 percent next year. What is fair for my number?

                              Bill Quimby (666 comments.) says:
                              September 22, 2010 at 6:55 pm

                              Hi Smith,

                              I don’t what the calls would be worth to them. If it’s a big company the hard part is getting their attention. It would probably be hard to get more than a token payment of a couple hundred bucks and probably wouldn’t be worth the effort. If it’s a real problem, I would make a couple calls, but if they don’t bite, just change the number, and don’t worry too much about it.

                              Bill Quimby

                                lisa axelrod (1 comments.) says:
                                October 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm

                                How do I sell 440-554-1XXX # any advice? Also how do I sell a good domain? Thank You

                                  Steve says:
                                  December 21, 2010 at 11:34 pm

                                  OK, from what I understand if I have a vanity number for my business and I eventually find I no longer need that business (closed up) then I am allowed to sell it.

                                  BUT HOW?

                                  What do I do to sell a number? There’s nothing tangible here, what does it mean to sell it? Can I just scribble “Bob Jones now owns 1-800-8000″ on a napkin and sign it? Wouldn’t my ownership of this number be registered somewhere?

                                    Anonymous says:
                                    December 22, 2010 at 11:40 am

                                    I have 2 very good toll free numbers that I would like to sell what is the best way to do this?

                                    Rod

                                      LC says:
                                      August 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm

                                      I have had my personal cell phone number for 8+ years. So many times when I give it out I am told its a great number and asked if it is a business no.
                                      Its just a regular area code number and its not an 800 no. Thinking about selling it. Comments? Ideas on how to sell it?
                                      Thanks – just happened on this site.

                                        Elizabeth Reyes(new comment) says:
                                        October 17, 2014 at 10:42 pm

                                        Thanks for taking my post. I have a 25 year old “preeemo” phone number I am sure any business worth its salt would buy in a pinch…no pun intended.

                                        How would I sell my number? To you? What are the costs? Profits to myself?

                                        Please e-mail info’ about how this game works. Thanks.

                                        ER

                                          17 pings

                                          TollFreeNumbers.com » » Are we skirting the law or selling numbers? says:
                                          December 29, 2007 at 4:38 am

                                          [...] post is based on a comment I received on another post about the legality of buying or selling [...]

                                            Should we be allowing users to buy and sell numbers? at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                            March 18, 2008 at 9:22 pm

                                            [...] Is it legal to buy and sell numbers? (4) [...]

                                              Should we be allowing users to buy and sell numbers? at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                              March 18, 2008 at 9:24 pm

                                              [...] Is it legal to buy and sell numbers? (5) [...]

                                                Changing Names at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                April 19, 2008 at 10:56 am

                                                [...] compensated, but you can’t get numbers for the purpose of reselling them. You can read more about the legality of reselling numbers. (No Ratings Yet)  Loading [...]

                                                  The Six Million dollar NUMBER? at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                  May 8, 2008 at 1:12 pm

                                                  [...] the FCC has regulations against hoarding and brokering toll free numbers in the US, but there are no such regulations in Australia where 800 number sales are already going into the [...]

                                                    What numbers do we find better and why? at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                    June 24, 2008 at 12:19 pm

                                                    [...] a part of it to customers charging a huge monthly fee that keeps escalating, forever. There are regulations against hoarding and brokering 800 numbers but that doesn’t stop these small businesses or individuals from doing it through creative loop [...]

                                                      But when I called it… at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                      June 27, 2008 at 9:12 am

                                                      [...] market value or book value and get them to give it you and/or move for you. They aren’t used to selling toll free numbers so it seems odd or strange to most people. You will get lucky sometimes and because there’s no [...]

                                                        5 reasons why it’s Harder to get a good Toll Free Number than a good Domain Name. at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                        November 12, 2008 at 8:47 am

                                                        [...] only one that usually has the customer information is the phone company responsible. 3. There’s no resale market for toll free numbers. There are several websites available and places to submit offers to owners [...]

                                                          Make money leasing out my vanity 800 number at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                          January 2, 2009 at 8:29 am

                                                          [...] often think they’re the first ones to think of the shared 800 business concept. But it’s been around for about 20 years and 20 years later, some are successful and make money, [...]

                                                            1-800 LASER DR at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                            February 11, 2009 at 1:35 am

                                                            [...] especially good for anyone. This reply and post also doesn’t address any of the issues about selling 800 numbers. I don’t want to go into this in great detail but I thought at least the short answer I gave him [...]

                                                              Ownership of your toll free number at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                              February 23, 2009 at 8:07 am

                                                              [...] written about selling toll free numbers but I haven’t written as much about the ownership of toll free numbers. Technically you own [...]

                                                                No 800 Number Brokers.com at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                                March 15, 2009 at 2:47 pm

                                                                [...] numbers, and the best 800 number lookup tool and even a little about selling 800 numbers and the legality of selling tollfree numbers makes people think that’s what we are. But we’re really not 800 number brokers and we really [...]

                                                                  Tell us about your Vanity Number Business at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                                  April 11, 2009 at 7:23 am

                                                                  [...] not listing lists of numbers for sale. We’re trying to talk about and share interesting phone number related businesses, because that [...]

                                                                    Smsgov.com is trying to hijack the toll free industry at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                                    May 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm

                                                                    [...] the record, there is nothing that says it’s illegal to SELL toll free numbers. The Real FCC regulations are only against BROKERING toll free numbers. Brokering means buying and [...]

                                                                      Can or should I sell my random 8-0-0 number? at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                                      November 23, 2009 at 1:19 am

                                                                      [...] is no central website to sell 800 numbers on. You can probably list it in the comments coming soon on the search results of our website. You [...]

                                                                        Reselling your 800 numbers at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                                        January 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm

                                                                        [...] posts: Is it legal to buy and sell numbers? at TollFreeNumbers.com Be ware of people claiming to broker or assist in negotiating for numbers (No Ratings Yet) [...]

                                                                          Auctioning 855 Numbers = “Brokering” at TollFreeNumbers.com says:
                                                                          August 18, 2010 at 3:13 am

                                                                          [...] he gets it, he’s going to auction it off to the requestors OR ANY THIRD PARTY! So he gets to “SELL” any toll free number that more than one customer wants. In my opinion this directly violates the [...]

                                                                            RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

                                                                            Leave a comment

                                                                            Random Testimonials

                                                                            Testimonial 42 out of 1983

                                                                            As a small business just starting out, my experience with your company has been truly exceptional! I was stunned to discover that you were able to get the vanity number of my choice. You not only IMMEDIATELY located and reserved that toll-free number for my company, but activated it INSTANTLY. You also went above and beyond the call of duty in customer service--including taking a phone call from me and answering endless questions late on a Friday night. That was very impressive! I am simply thrilled that I bumped into your website when I did. I honestly couldn't be more satisfied. Thank you so much for your help in setting up 877-MY-LASSO!

                                                                            Sincerely,

                                                                            Michelle M. Larkin, President
                                                                            Lasso, LLC, Phoenix, AZ



                                                                            Testimonial 353 out of 1983

                                                                            This service was educational, fast and reasonable priced. Bill really "Knows" this business and is a real credit to every honest hard working online business.

                                                                            Robert L Float
                                                                            Nothing But Postcards Corp



                                                                            Testimonial 1825 out of 1983

                                                                            Thank you for your quick, easy service! You definitely made this much easier than any regular phone company ever could.Power Mechanical, Inc. provides Rental Boilers, 24 hour Boiler Service, Used Boilers for Sale, Rental Chillers

                                                                            Richard Reuter
                                                                            Power Mechanical, Inc.



                                                                            Testimonial 659 out of 1983

                                                                            Your site is great! Although I have not found any numbers I can use, the site is a great service. Thanks for what you do.

                                                                            Ted A. Greve
                                                                            Ted A. Greve & Associates, PA



                                                                            Testimonial 1385 out of 1983

                                                                             G. Mark Hardy, enterprise security"Congratulations on what I think is a brilliant business model (both in concept and execution.)"

                                                                            Warm regards,

                                                                            G. Mark Hardy
                                                                            President
                                                                            National Security Corporation
                                                                            NationalSecurity.com





                                                                            Testimonial 444 out of 1983

                                                                            I discovered Bill's site while doing a search for Voice Mail services on the internet. The information contained on the site was indispensable.
                                                                            I contacted Bill with questions concerning my unique situation. He was prompt in his replies and guided me through the entire process.
                                                                            I consequently reserved my 1-888 number through his service and couldn't be happier with the results.

                                                                            Charles Stanley
                                                                            Mortgage Agent



                                                                            Testimonial 1670 out of 1983

                                                                            Helicopter Flight Training and Employment, Spelunking TrainingThanks for the informative site Bill. I've learnt a lot about Toll-Free Numbers and look forward to increasing revenue through their use.

                                                                            Kind Regards,

                                                                            Kristian Aboud
                                                                            www.WildNative.com



                                                                            Testimonial 1323 out of 1983

                                                                            You guys are great! I am so grateful I found you. I can't believe so many companies out there charge hundreds of dollars a month to RENT the same numbers that I can buy from you and OWN for a very small price! Thank you!!
                                                                            windows and doors
                                                                            Carole Weber, Vice President
                                                                            Weber Windows



                                                                            Testimonial 1091 out of 1983

                                                                            I am amazed the quick response I have received from you and your company. It took you less than 3 minutes to activate my new number. Thank you so much, now we can add the number to our advertising campaign.

                                                                            Andrew Copertino (Det. Ret.), President
                                                                            South Shore Investigations Inc.



                                                                            Testimonial 887 out of 1983

                                                                            I did not think it was possible to get a number so quickly. I found the number I wanted, then purchased it online, and I "instantly" got my number. It could not be any faster. You even have a way to reserve the number in case I found another number that was better.

                                                                            After I purchased my number, I was quite confused. I was not sure what to do next. How do you move it to your curent provider? Is there a fee to move? Who do you speak with? Then, low and behold, I got a complete manual on what to do, who to speak with, and what to say. I even got a toll free number "birth certicate". You guys anticipated every question we had and questions we did not even think of.

                                                                            Regards,
                                                                            Mel Williams
                                                                            Eye Zone Medical



                                                                            UGG Online Cheap jimmy choo Canada Goose Gloves http://www.pasolinimedellin.com/cine/ Moncler Vests Outlet Moncler Jackets Outlet Moncler Coats Outlet Moncler Men Jackets Outlet Christian Louboutin Pumps Jimmy Choo Shoes Christian Louboutin Pumps sale