Scammers Use Offshore Numbers to Gain Big Bucks

Some scams never go away

By Yvonne Beltzer
|  Thursday, Mar 11, 2010  |  Updated 1:54 PM PDT
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Scammers Use Offshore Numbers to Gain Big Bucks

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A scam targeting cell phones has users afraid to call certain area codes.

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The 809 area code scam is what grifters might call an oldie but a goodie.

Even today, the con is still at work, being circulated via e-mail.

According to e-mails, recipients are never to return a call to the 809 area code. Allegedly, scam artists are using the area code to con people into calling the Caribbean, and this could lead to a $2,400 charge. The e-mail also warns about the 284 area code and the 876.

But is it real? Could calls to those area codes really ring up serious charges?

Yes and no.

According to scam-busting website Snopes.com, the basics of the 809 area code scam are real, but the e-mail -- which is still in circulation -- overstates the dire warnings since each of the area codes mentioned are legitimate.

The scam was in play as early as 2000, according to Snopes. In scam years, that's an eternity.

Also, according to Snopes, the financial amounts involved are exaggerated.

Usually the scam works this way: The scammers leave a message for the victim claiming he or she has won a sweepstakes, or a family member is desperately ill or injured. Other messages might claim to be from a credit agency, or contain a solicitation for a mystery shopper. When the victim calls back, he or she is connected to a lengthy message, which tries to keep the victim on the phone as long as possible to rack up a hefty charge.

It works because the victim unknowingly is calling into a foreign phone company outside the jurisdiction of U.S. laws. Snopes claims the charges run anywhere from $25 to $100 per minute -- not the $2,400 per minute claimed in the e-mail.

The Federal Communications Commission has issued its own advisory on this scam, which apparently migrated from landlines to cell phones in recent years.

Wireless consumers have reported receiving unsolicited phone calls from 809, 649, 284 and 876 area codes. They appear to be regular U.S. codes, but in reality, they are from Caribbean counties. Code 809 is in the Dominican Republic; 876 is in Jamaica; 649 is in the Turks and Caicos Islands; and 284 covers the British Virgin Islands.

There is no problem in calling any of these area codes if you know who and where you are calling. The problem begins when you received an unsolicited call from these or any other unknown area code. It is easy to check the origin of an area code by going on a search engine and checking where it is.

The FCC warns people to check any unfamiliar area code before returning calls. If you do not otherwise make international calls, ask your wireless phone company to block outgoing calls to international phone numbers on your line.

The FCC also suggests if you become a victim of this or any phone scam, try to resolve the matter with your phone company. If you cannot do so, you can file a complaint online with the FCC at esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm or by e-mailing fccinfo@fcc.gov.

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