Toll-Free Numbers

I remember several years ago when I was at Citi and was trying HARD to secure a toll-free “vanity number” for Citibank.

I did my research.

First of all, I discovered that (800) CITIBANK was being used by our Citi credit card partners…but NOT for their main customer service number!

Instead, they were utilizing it as an “applications status” line where applicants could call for  the status of the recently-submitted application.

What an absolute waste!

I tried on numerous occasions to get them to PLEASE release (800) CITIBANK to us, the U.S. Retail Bank, so we’d be able to employ it as our main customer service number across the country. We already had (800) CITIGOLD for our affluent customers & (800) CITI-IRA for our Telemarketing Unit out of NY.

In addition, it would be a major marketing & advertising coup!

Since I could never successfully secure (800) CITIBANK, I started searching for other toll-free alternatives. That’s when I discovered that (888) CITIBANK was available.

However & unfortunately, (877) CITIBANK was already being used…but not by Citi!

Why would it matter that (877) CITIBANK was already being used?, you ask. 🤔

Well, it happened to be some sort of sex talk line (ya know, for lonely dudes)!

There was no way in hell that I was going to get (888) CITIBANK when the (877) one was already being utilized for a sex line!

Though, I hafta admit, that was pretty ingenious of those sexeteers.

A “true” 800 # is different in that it truly stands out in people’s minds. But once you start getting into the other toll-free number “alternatives”, e.g., (888), (877), (866), (855), etc., they all just seem to blend into each other.

I could just imagine the thousands of complaint letters we would receive from clients who called (877) CITIBANK instead of (888), not to mention all the e-mails & phone calls from the Monday morning quarterbacks in senior management.

Very recently, I’ve seen (800) CITIBANK as being part of a retail bank offering. Apparently, someone got BankCards to succumb & surrender the number.


I remember when Justice Greene’s historic 1984 ruling broke up the Ma Bell monopoly, sending major ripples (tsunamis?) throughout the entire telecommunications industry!

While toll-free numbers have been around since 1967, but the fact that AT&T was the only company offering them until 1984 meant that these numbers were only accessible to well-established companies that could pay the hefty fees.

Long-distance & local service providers all became separate & distant entities (AT&T, NY Telephone, Pacific Bell, Ameritech, etc.). It also brought about the mercurial growth of long-distance carriers like MCI & Sprint.

It was also the time when you were able to “reserve” 800/toll-free numbers…the “vanity numbers”…so that you were able to secure them for your own personal use!

*decides against a discussion of WATS/Wide Area Telephone Service as it would certainly cause a brain aneurysm*

*sees his telecomm buddies salivating about the good ol’ days*

I know of many people & organizations that “reserved” these vanity 800 #s (800-HERSHEY, 800-DOCTORS, 800-FLOWERS, 800-GOFEDEX, 800-RENTCAR, 800-WALGREENS, etc.), sometimes not as actual representatives of those companies or a business in that particular field, but in order to hold them hostage.

They would “force” ransom payments from companies who weren’t as fast, or as sharp, to get their own applications in. Payoffs of $50,000, $100,000 or more were not uncommon. I would imagine some of those numbers would fetch millions, or tens of millions, nowadays.

Hell, if major corporations are doling out bazillions in naming rights for a ballpark, football stadium or basketball arena, I could only imagine what they would do for the “perfect” 800#!

But it would have to be the ol’ reliable (and memorable) version…(800)!

That damned (877) CITIBANK ruined it for everyone!



As always, thank you so very much for listening!

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