Friday, December 19, 2003

George Mindling Column 12-19-2003


An Old Scam Pops Up


While looking at my telephone bill, trying to figure out why the taxes are as much as the telephone charges themselves, I noticed Sprint had included a warning about the return of an old scam: redirecting your PC modem to dial an international access number. The problem, called "hijacking," occurs if you click on certain Internet pop-up ads on your PC screen. You won't know you've been disconnected from your Internet service, or that the modem has called a new number, with charges, according to the Sprint flyer, of up to $9.00 a minute. They don't mention what happens if you are on a broadband service such as cable or DSL, but the scam probably tries to dial your PC's built-in modem anyway.

If you click on the ad, your PC is disconnected from the Internet dial-up connection you made when you logged on and a new, international number is quietly dialed without you realizing the new call has been made. The modem sounds are suppressed by the commands from the pop-up ad. Sprint states the action results "in you being billed for costly international long-distance calls you didn't realize you made."

I wrote back in February about the "809" area code being notorious for generating large, unwanted long-distance telephone bills. The problem isn't just dialing the 809 area code, which is the Dominican Republic. Any legitimate call to the Dominican Republic uses that area code. There are charge telephone numbers that happen to reside in that country, and in others that do not require the international access number of 011, and can bill according to those country's laws that are the problem.
Once you make the call, you are legitimately required to pay the bill. Remember, the bill is not from your long-distance 'provider, but from the number you dialed. The foreign telephone service forwards the bill to your long-distance provider. Your long-distance provider then submits the bill from the foreign number on your monthly bill. They are obligated to collect it by international telephone and commerce agreements. Disputing the bill can .be a challenge, as the disagreement will be with a foreign telephone company, not a U.S. long-distance provider. The long-distance carrier may help, but don't bank on it.

The 809 area code was splintered in 1997 into several different codes, with the Dominican Republic maintaining the original 809 area code. The 473 area code is now Grenada, while 284 is the British Virgin Islands, and 868 is Trinidad and Tobago. All can be dialed without the international "011" code.

Go to http://www.thedirectory.org/pref/ for a complete list of area codes. The Sprint flyer advises you to be cautious about any Internet pop-up screens you click on, and to read all messages carefully. While there should be consumer warnings, the flyer does not say those warnings will always be there. For more information' call Sprint Fraud Management a 1-866-255-5278.

Now all we need is a toll-free telephone number to prevent pop-up telephone taxes.

George Mindling © 2003

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