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A Real Fraud With a Bad Warning

Copyright © 2002 by David E. Ross

I received the following at work, from my employer's security office. Given the source, the warning is credible. However, given the information presented, the warning seems almost like a hoax.

Counterintelligence Bulletin 2002-001, AREA CODE 809 SCAM, 03 April 2002

The National Fraud Information Center and Verizon have identified an extremely costly scam involving receipt of Emails, phone calls, pager messages and web page messages requesting the recipient to call a phone number with an 809 area code.

The message received varies, but may alert the recipient to call to receive information concerning a sick family member, to inform you someone has been arrested and needs help, someone has died, you have won a high value prize, etc. In each case, the recipient is directed to call the 809 area code number immediately. As there are many new area codes throughout the U.S., people unknowingly return these calls.

If you call from the U.S., you are allegedly charged $2425.00 per minute. Upon making the call you will either listen to a very long recorded message or be put in contact with an individual who will attempt to keep you on the line as long as possible to increase the charges. A ten-minute call could cost over $24,000.

The 809 area code is located in the British Virgin Islands (The Bahamas). This area code can be used as a "pay-per-call number, similar to 900 numbers in the U.S. As the 809 area code is not in the U.S., it is not covered by U.S. regulations, which require notification and warning of charges and rates when you call a pay-per-call number. Further, there is no requirement that the company owning the number provide a time period during which you may terminate the call without being charged. U.S. homes that have 900 number blocking to avoid these type charges does not work in preventing calls to an 809 area code.

Since this scam involves dealing with a foreign company governed by foreign regulations attempts to fight charges from inadvertently making a call to an 809 number could become a legal nightmare. Further, local phone companies and long distance carriers may be unwilling to become involved as they only provide the billing for the foreign company and are not responsible for any calls you make.

Be wary of Emails, phone calls, pager messages or any other communication directing you to call an 809 area coded number. We recommend that if you are asked to call an 809 area coded number that you do not recognize, disregard the message. Please give this information widest dissemination.

Several things are wrong with this bulletin:

Yes, this bulletin describes a very real fraud. However, hyperbole and scrambled facts make it hard to believe.

20 April 2002

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