The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently learned that an old long distance phone scam that leads consumers to incur high charges on their phone bills may now affect wireless consumers.
In the past, consumers have been fooled into making expensive international calls by scam artists who leave messages on consumers’ answering machines or their e-mail accounts. The messages urge consumers to call a number with an “809,” “284,” “876,” or some other area code to collect a prize, find out about a sick relative, or engage in sex talk.
Wireless consumers are now receiving similar calls from phone numbers with three-digit area codes that appear to be domestic, but are actually associated with international pay-per-call phone numbers. While wireless companies are working to block suspicious numbers on their networks, some consumers may become victims of this scam.
The Scam Works Something Like This:
• Your wireless phone rings once or twice and then disconnects the call. When the number appears in your wireless phone log as a missed call, it appears to be a typical domestic telephone number starting with a “649” area code; or you get an e-mail or voicemail (on your residential wired telephone) telling you to call a phone number with an “809”, “284”, “876,” or some other three-digit international area code.
• When you return the call, you assume you are making a domestic long distance call – as “649,” “809,” “284,” “876,” and other area codes involved in this scam, appear to be typical three-digit U.S. area codes.
• When you dial the three-digit area code plus the number, however, you are connected to a phone number outside the United States, often in Canada or the Caribbean, and are charged expensive international call rates, and may be charged for pay-per-call services as well. (In this case, “649” goes to the Turks and Caicos, “809” goes to the Dominican Republic, “284” goes to the British Virgin Islands, and “876” goes to Jamaica.)
• You don’t find out about the higher international call rates until you receive your phone bill.
What You Can Do to Minimize the Risk of This Happening to You:
• Check any unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
• Be aware that there are many 3-digit area codes (mostly in the Caribbean) that connect callers to international telephone numbers.
• If you do not otherwise make international calls, ask your local or wireless phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.
Filing a Complaint with the FCC
If you are billed for a call you made as a result of this scam, first try to resolve the matter with your telephone company. If you are unable to resolve it directly, you can file a complaint with the FCC. There is no charge for filing a complaint.
You can file your complaint using an FCC on-line complaint form found at esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm. You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554.