Warning: Dial these Four Area Codes and Pay Big! [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
These days, with nationwide long distance and cell phone plans, most of us don’t think twice about making a long distance call. However, there are four area codes that look like they belong in the US, but aren’t, and an accidental call to one could have you paying big.
I discovered this about two months ago, when my grandmother received a call that she had won a large lottery jackpot. All she had to do was to send several thousand dollars, via Western Union, to a prearranged address. Then the lottery would send her the prize. Sound too good to be true? It is. Thankfully, she wasn’t stupid enough to fall for it.
International lottery scams are on the rise. Crooks from overseas are trying to deceive, what they assume to be, rich Americans into sending them cash. While this type of crime has been around for many years, but recent news reports say this type of scam is the rise.
Scammers will call from, what appears to be a, local United States area code. They will leave a number to call back, often in the same area code. Their number will also show up on a caller ID, although it’s often faked. Sophisticated computer programs can disguise the actual caller’s number and assign a false number to a caller ID.
The victim will then either call them back or call the number left on the ID to see whose call they missed. And BANG. You will get a big fat charge on your phone bill. Plus, some scammers redirect your call to another number that can get charge even more.
According to the FCC, the deceiving area codes are: 809, 649, 248, and 876. While the caller will dial the normal 10 digit American long distance number, 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx, these are located internationally and are charged accordingly. Some calls to these area codes can be as high as $29 per minute.
Victim’s often don’t even know they been charged until they receive their monthly telephone bill.
These international area codes are located in the following countries:
649 – Turks and Caicos
809 – Dominican Republic
284 – British Virgin Islands
876 – Jamaica
The scammers targeting my grandmother found her name and address by doing a simple internet search. They called with some information about her, trying to convince her the scam was legit and to send cash. After she refused and hung up, the scammers began calling her over and over hourly for days. They were relentless.
While I had no idea this was going on, she told both my cousin and my aunt. First, my aunt called the scammer’s number and told them to stop calling her. She was met with a barrage of vulgarities. Afterwards, my cousin called multiple times informing them to stop. She too was met with a barrage of vulgarities, but gave them right back. She made three phone calls in all.
After her third call, her phone rang back and it was the Verizon fraud department. Verizon had noticed that she had made three rapid calls to the Jamaica area code. After informing them of what was going on, Verizon gladly dropped the long distance charges and informed her that since this is an international matter, there is really not much more they can legally do, even though they are aware of the scam.
A call to the Pennsylvania State Police yielded no results either, saying it was an international affair and that she should simply “hang up.”
It was then that my grandmother informed me of what was going on. She simply said: “Who is giving me free money for a lottery that I didn’t even enter? I’m not that dumb.”
I did a quick internet search and found that thousands of victims have fallen for this scam all around the country. A number of senior citizens in Florida and Maine turned over their entire life savings, thinking they were going to get a big check. Once they sent the money via Western Union – it’s gone!
I warned her to just keep hanging up and she did. After one a few more calls, they simply gave up and probably moved on.
An American-Jamaican joint task force has been formed to target these widespread scammers in their country. The task force estimates they rob more than $1 billion a year, mostly from elderly Americans. One Washington senior citizen turned over $250,000 alone last year.
While this scam is heavily targeting the elderly, all of us are at risk. You never want to give your personal information to anyone over the phone. Kiss your ID and credit goodbye if you do so. Also, any of us dialing those numbers can get charged. My aunt had to call her phone company back – and they too, wiped the charge.
The FCC has a few tips to avoid the scam:
• Check any unfamiliar numbers, before you dial. A quick internet search can reveal if others have complained about the number or became a target. You also don’t want your unlisted cell number added to a robo call data list that will get you a lot more automated calls from scammers. The DO NOT CALL list is pretty much a joke to these people.
• Be aware that there are many three digit Caribbean area codes that are billed as international calls.
• Ask your local phone company to block your ability to make international calls if you don’t need to do so. This way, you won’t accidentally dial one.
If you are targeted, or believe that you have dialed, or are billed for a scammer’s international call; immediately get in touch with your phone company. They are aware of these scams and should work with you to remove the charges.
You can also file a free complaint with the Federal Communications Commission at www.fcc.gov/complaints or by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC. Online filing is recommended. You can also write to the FCC at:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries & Complaints Division
445 12th St., SW
Washington, DC 20554
Area Codes: 809, 649, 284, 876
What: international area codes that are billed high international rates and are popular with scammers
For help: www.fcc.gov
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:
Try and stay one step ahead of the crooks. I get these robo calls on my home phone all the time and I have written about these in the past. I never answer a call if I don’t recognize the number. If it is someone I know, they will leave a message, and I can call back. If not, I often search the number online to find out who it is.