An update on the 809 area code scam and more:
Internet ScamBusters #34
By Audri and Jim Lanford
Copyright © Audri and Jim Lanford
Issue #34 September 15, 1999
Internet ScamBusters was reviewed in this week's online issue of Forbes. Check out the article and find reviews of a number of excellent anti-fraud sites:
Update on the "809 Area Code Scam" and What to Do if Your e-Zine Gets Changed and Then Spammed
We recently discovered that an issue of Internet ScamBusters - written in 1996 - has resurfaced and is being sent around the Net as spam. This email is about the 809 area code scam, and the "revised" version contains some important mistakes. It is being sent around as if it comes from Internet ScamBusters.
In this issue, we'll correct the mistakes and give you an update on how this scam has changed - and not changed - in the past three years.
We thought this is important for you for two reasons. First, the 809 scam is still thriving, so it's still important to protect yourself. Second, this kind of problem - where an email or e-zine you write is changed and then sent around as spam with you as the supposed author - could happen to you as well, and we'll present some ideas about what to do if this does happen to you.
If you're wondering how we found out about this problem, we discovered it in two ways. First, we simply received a copy of one of the emails from a customer. Second, we visit Google's searchable Usenet discussion forums" (http://groups.google.com/) every couple of weeks to see what is being said about us and Internet ScamBusters in the newsgroups. We discovered that there has been a lively thread about this topic in the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup. It has also been discussed in the rec.arts.sf.fandom, alt.books.david-weber, rec.autos.makers.jeep+willys, and several other newsgroups.
Before we get to the mistakes and changes people made to our issue of Internet ScamBusters, here is a brief review of the 809 scam:
The "809" scam has many permutations but they all involve a message to you (either by email, phone or pager) that you immediately call or fax a number in the "809" area code or some other area code in the Caribbean. Examples of why you should call or fax the phone number include avoiding litigation, receiving information about someone who has been arrested or died, winning a wonderful prize, or getting a job.
The "809" area code is in the Caribbean, yet most people are not aware that they are making an international call when they dial the "809" area code, since you simply dial 1-809-xxx-xxxx to make the call. No international codes are required.
The problem comes from the fact that some phone numbers in the "809" area code are "pay-per-call" numbers (such as 900 numbers in the US) - but there are no legal requirements that callers be informed that they are being charged extra in the Caribbean. When you return one of these "pay-per-call" 809 calls, the scamsters try to keep you on the phone as long as possible, and you may be charged very high rates for the call, reportedly up to $25 per minute.
It is difficult to get credit for these charges if you do get scammed since you did make the call, and resolving the problem involves getting credit from international phone companies.
Since there are now many area codes in the Caribbean, this scam is no longer confined to just the 809 area code.
You can see the original ScamBusters issues about the 809 scam and more on the 809 scam.
OK, enough introduction. Now let's look at the mistakes in the new emails and posts about this topic:
Mistake: The beginning of the email says: "DO NOT EVER DIAL AREA CODE 809."
Comment: This is not our recommendation and we never wrote this. Most phone numbers in the 809 area code are legitimate.
Mistake: "Please forward this entire issue of Internet ScamBusters! to all your friends, family and colleagues to help them become aware of this scam so they don't get ripped off."
Comment: We never asked people to send the issue to everyone they know. This type of request is typical of spam, which we are very against. Please *don't* forward the bogus email message to anyone if you receive it. Just hit the delete key.
Mistake: The 809 area code is new.
Comment: The 809 area code is not new, and we never stated it was. It has been around for many years.
Mistake: Some spam versions of this email say that charges can be as high as $10,000.
Comment: This, of course, is very unlikely. We suggest charges might be as high as $100. $10,000 would mean the scamsters succeeded in keeping people on the phone for many, many hours.
Mistake: The new emailed version also includes a mistake in our first issue, which we corrected the second issue. We had mistakenly written: "The 809 area code is located in the British Virgin Islands (the Bahamas)."
Comment: Obviously, the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas are not the same country.
Update on the 809 ScamThere are a number of changes that have occurred involving the 809 scam since we wrote about this in Internet ScamBusters three years ago.
Area codes have changed in many of the countries. Now, 809 is just for the Dominican Republic. For example, 242 is the area code for the Bahamas, 284 is for the British Virgin Islands, and 787 is for Puerto Rico. You can find all the new area codes at:
Or you can go here to look up any area code in the world:
You can also find area code maps of various regions in .pdf format at the North American Numbering Plan Administration site:
We have not been able to verify if charges are still as high as $25 per minute. It may be that the price today is significantly lower.
We spoke with Mr. Chavez at AT&T on September 12, 1999. He said that there have not been any changes lately regarding Caribbean area codes or scams that he is aware of. We have learned that AT&T did put out a bulletin that this scam continues to thrive, but we have not been able to locate this bulletin.
We'd also heard there are now new related scams using the prefixes 500 and 700. These prefixes can be used for adult entertainment and for pay per call numbers. Some of these numbers are in the country Vanuatu. Mr. Chavez confirmed this.
You can learn more about this scam at
Better Business Bureau:
National Fraud Information Center:
What to Do if Your e-Zine or Email Gets Changed and Then Spammed
It's a difficult situation to correct if this does happen to you. Here are a few things we are doing (or are about to do):
Place an announcement on our home page about the problem
Find all the newsgroups where the changed e-zine has been posted and reply with a simple, short, individual post explaining the problem and providing a link for more information
Respond to all individual copies of the email we receive by explaining the problem and providing a link for more information
Send a clear, short email to any reporters who emailed us about the new version
- Write this issue of Internet ScamBusters ;-)
Finally, check out the issue on how to deal with Lies and Misinformation about your company for additional tips.