It usually happens to individuals, but even a big state such as New York can be a victim.
The state says 94 pay phones it owns were switched to a different long-distance company without permission.
The practice, known in telecommunications jargon as "slamming," is illegal.
The Federal Communications Commission, responding to the state's complaint, proposed a $1.41 million fine Friday against Oncor Communications Inc. for repeatedly switching the pay phones to its long-distance service without the state's consent.
The company will have an opportunity to respond to the FCC, before the fine -- the largest yet -- becomes final.
Oncor told the FCC that the state endorsed promotional checks, permitting a change of service. The FCC could find no evidence the state ever endorsed such checks or entered into any agreement with Oncor to use its service.
In fact, said the FCC, the state returned the checks to Oncor, telling the company that it must rely on competitive bidding to award long-distance service contracts.
The unauthorized switches occurred between November 1993 and April 1994, the FCC said.