Phone Scams

More on the 809 phone scams:
Internet ScamBusters #9

Internet ScamBusters™
By Audri and Jim Lanford
Copyright © Audri and Jim Lanford
Issue #9

On Monday we sent out a Special Alert to notify subscribers of the "809" Scam. We’ve been doing a lot of research on this scam all week, and getting *a lot* of email. Last night we uncovered information which results in much broader implications of this scam than we’ve seen reported anywhere. So, we’re sending out this additional issue of Internet ScamBusters to warn you about the new developments.

Brief review: The "809" scam has many permutations but they all involve a message to you (either by email, phone or pager) that you immediately call a number in the "809" area code to avoid some bad consequence (such as litigation, or to receive information about someone who has been arrested or died) or to gain some good benefit (such as winning a wonderful prize).

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. "809" calls can be "pay-per-call" numbers (such as 900 numbers in the US) – and there are no legal requirements that callers be informed that they are being charged extra. When you return a "pay-per-call" 809 call, they try to keep you on the phone as long as possible, and you are charged very high rates for the call, reportedly up to $25 per minute.

New information: Until recently, the "809" area code covered the entire Caribbean. However, that’s changed. There are now a series of new area codes for different countries in the Caribbean. That means there are now additional area codes which victims can unknowingly call with the same results as the original "809" scam. The "268" area code is already reportedly being used by scam artists. And you can be sure that the scammers won’t take long to start using these new codes in a big way.

According to representatives at AT&T, here are the new area codes and their effective dates:

Country Code Effective Date
Bahamas 242 October 1, 1996
Barbados 246 July 1, 1996
Antigua 268 April 1, 1996
Cayman Islands 345 September 1, 1996
Monsterrat 664 July 1, 1996
St. Lucia 758 July 1, 1996
Puerto Rico 787 March 1, 1996
St. Kitts/Nevis 869 October 1, 1996
Jamaica 876 October 1, 1996 (conflicting reports-may still be 809)
Bermuda now has the area code of 441.

A few more countries will be changing their area codes in 1997:

N. Commonwealth
of Mariana Is. 670 July 1, 1997
Trinidad &
Dominica 767 October 1, 1997
Tobago 868 June 1, 1997
(however, this may have already have occurred according to AT&T)

Several countries are keeping the 809 area code, such as the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Virgin Islands, Martinique, St. John (although St. John may change to 268), St. Thomas, and St. Vincent.

(Please note: We spoke with three representatives at AT&T, and they all gave us slightly different information. For example, they varied on whether the effective date for Antigua’s change was March 1 or April 1, 1996 and whether Jamaica has a new area code. However, our concern is with the major concepts rather than with the specific details.)

And there’s more. AT&T supplied us with a long list of "pay-per-call" numbers. The numbers on this list may include adult sex lines, resume lines, and other "pay-per-call" numbers.

(Please note: this list does not include all of the "pay-per-call" numbers in the Caribbean – and there may be numbers included below that are not "pay-per-call" numbers. Our purpose here is to warn readers of the scope of this problem.)

Antigua / St. John
268-404-4000 to 404-6999
809-404-7411

Dominican Republic
809-404-4000 to 404-6999
809-412-0785 to 412-0787
809-412-0960 to 412-0964
809-414-1000 to 414-1499
809-470-0000 to 414-1949
809-474-0001 to 474-9996
809-476-0105 to 476-0112
809-476-0131 to 476-0135
809-476-0314 to 476-0319
809-476-1001 to 476-1020
809-476-1200 to 476-1229
809-476-1350 to 476-1399
809-476-1400 to 476-1446
809-476-1600 to 476-1629
809-476-1765 to 476-1796
809-476-1930 to 476-1999
809-537-0300 to 537-0899
809-540-5000 to 540-5199
809-563-0000 to 563-0199
809-563-0300 to 563-0699
809-563-9000 to 563-9199
809-563-9300 to 563-9899

St. Vincent
809-456-0000 to 456-9999
809-457-0000 to 457-9999
809-458-0000 to 458-9999
809-485-0000 to 485-9999
809-490-0000 to 490-9999
809-493-0000 to 493-9999

Summary: Be very careful returning phone numbers to area codes you don’t recognize, especially when you receive calls, emails or pages with urgent messages that you call these numbers. Call your long distance phone company’s operator to find out where the area code is located (or look it up on the net), and only call numbers that make sense to you.

Two additional "pay-per-call" number scams:

SCAM: Some 800 numbers reportedly roll over to "809" and other foreign "pay-per-call" numbers with little or no warning.

A representative at AT&T warned us of a common scam she encounters. Here’s how it works: You see an ad on the Internet or in a newspaper for an overseas job opportunity as a "secret shopper" or a "mystery shopper." You call the listed 800 number to either learn more or to apply for the job. You are left on hold for 15 to 20 minutes. You are either warned that the call is being rolled over to a toll call, or you’re not warned. However, even when people are warned, they don’t realize that the roll over is to an international, "pay-per-call" number. When you are finally connected, you’re told all the positions have been filled. When you receive your phone bill, you have a very large charge.

SCAM: "809" and other "pay-per-call" numbers can be used to cheat businesses who offer fax back services.

Thanks to Lee Jones, who alerted us to this scam: Many companies offer a computerized fax-back service where the company faxes requested documents to a phone number entered by the caller. The caller can get the fax-back service to call back their "pay-per-call" number. When the business calls this "pay-per-call" fax number to send the documents, they are charged the very inflated rates. You should consider protecting your business from this scam by blocking area codes such as those listed above.


An update on the Internet version on the 809 scam we described in the last issue of Internet ScamBusters:

On October 8th, we looked up the domain name and ISP of "Global Communications," the company that had posted the "809" message we included in the last issue. We discovered that the domain name, demon.net, is owned by Demon Systems Limited, in London. We tried calling Demon many times, but their phone was always busy. We emailed them asking what they intended to do about this scam, but we received no reply (other than their automated response that they had received our email).

We also searched the newsgroups to see whether they had posted any additional information. We found three relevant posts. Here is part of the response from Mike Whitaker, Duty Postmaster, Demon Internet Ltd., postmaster@demon.net:

This message originates from one of our customers and is clearly a ‘scam’ to persuade people to call the number listed. Demon take a very dim view of such behaviour, and appropriate action is being taken.

Demon Internet has closed "Global Communications" account and is considering further action.

You can be sure that "Global Communicatio
ns" and other companies like them will be back soon with different names, phone numbers, email addresses and messages. Again, it’s not the specifics of this scam that are important – it’s watching out for the general principles.

Incidentally, if you’re curious, several people called the 809 phone number "Global Communications" posted to discover what actually happened when you called. Ryan J. Donmoyer, in MONEY Daily on October 9th, reports:

"Callers to the number are led to believe they are talking to a live person, but in fact it is a clever recording that responds to the caller’s voice. Among other things, an irate-sounding man with a British accent warns, ‘Your check will come round or we’ll come round to get it.’ The recording seems designed to keep callers on the line as long as possible, and is reportedly billed at $25 per minute."

Others reported that this "man" with a British accent kept telling them to hold on while he picked up other phone calls and supposedly yelled at his staff. He continued to yell at the callers as well, saying "send the money," and yelled into other ringing phones as long as the callers remained on the line.


Corrections and Clarifications to Issue #8 Of Internet ScamBusters:

- According to our sources at AT&T, the number listed in the email (809 496 2700) is located in the Dominican Republic, not in the British Virgin Islands or the Bahamas as we reported.

- We had a typo in the last issue that implied that the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands were the same country — obviously, that’s not true. (Thanks to Kathryn Morris for pointing this out.)

- Finally, we hope it goes without saying that we do not view all Caribbean businesses as fraudulent. Obviously, most Caribbean businesses are honest. Nor did we name the West Indian language as "broken English." What we said was the person who answers the phone in these scams sometimes speaks broken English and pretends not to understand you to keep you on the line. We certainly did not, and do not, view West Indian language as "broken English."