Beware of Fraudulent International Phone Calls

4/7/2004

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There are several schemes that deceive consumers into calling international phone numbers. For most international calls, U.S. consumers would have to dial "011" to begin a call to a foreign country. It is helpful to know, however, that there are locations outside the U.S. whose telephone numbers may look like domestic long-distance numbers, but they are actually international calls, for which international rates apply. For example, 809, 284, and 876 are area codes in the Caribbean. If you call these countries, you are not placing a call to a person or entity located in the United States.

International calling schemes start with a consumer's unfamiliarity with area codes and add a "pay-per-call" twist. Consumers dial an area code or exchange that looks like a "standard" phone number used here in the U.S., and, they unknowingly reach a "900-type" or "pay-per-call" service in another country. That country may not necessarily require businesses that use "pay-per-call" numbers to disclose to consumers the fees they will be charged per minute when placing the call. So the consumer ends up paying international rates for the phone call, and "fee-for-service" costs based on the amount of time spent on the phone before hanging up.

Scammers use a variety of schemes to trick U.S. consumers into calling international numbers (that appear to be domestic) by sending "urgent" messages to pagers, fax machines, e-mail addresses, or answering machines. Recipients are asked to call back because:

  • A relative has died, is desperately ill or injured.

  • They have won a lottery or sweepstakes prize they must call to claim.

  • A bill or credit card debt is past due and needs to be straightened out immediately to avoid collection actions.

  • They are being offered solicitations for high-paying jobs and most call immediately to be considered.

When a consumer falls prey and calls the number, the scam artist attempts to keep the caller on the line for as long as possible to increase the caller's long-distance calling charges and/or "pay-per-call" fees. Consumers can receive telephone bills as high as $100 to $200.

To avoid falling for these types of schemes, the Better Business Bureau suggests the following:

  • Know where you are calling before you dial. Check your telephone directory or call the operator to determine where the area code is before making the call. You can also visit www.consumer.att.com to look up any area code or country code in the world.

  • When you receive a desperate message from someone you do not know, simply disregard it.

  • Also be aware that it is usually necessary to dial 011 to reach an international location. However, there are some locations outside the U.S. such as the Caribbean and Canada, whose telephone numbers resemble domestic long distance calls, but carry a higher international rate.

  • A block on calls to "900" services will not stop calls to "011" or "809" or other international numbers. If you are certain you will not need to make international calls, call your long-distance carrier and ask them to put an international block on your telephone line.
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