Friday, February 21, 2003

George Mindling Column 2-21-2003

A Brand New Twist on an Old Scam


To direct dial an international telephone call to friends and family outside the United States. you usually dial 011 first to let the telephone system know you arc dialing an international call.

However, there are many area codes in foreign counties that can be called with just an area code, without first dialing 011. The AT&T telephone card response line even has an instruction. "to call within Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean, please dial a 1."

One area code in particular, 809, has caused grief to some unsuspecting callers - which some people assume is a toll-free line much like the 800 and 888 area codes. It is an international call and it isn't toll-free. There is an Internet scam update currently going around the Web warning of incredibly high telephone bills if they call the 809 area code. There is a real scam, but a little truth may help telephone users understand what to avoid and what is really going on.

The 809 area code is in the Dominican Republic. Obviously, if you need to call someone in the Dominican Republic, you must dial the 809 area code. Just dialing the area code does not generate the staggering telephone bill!

There are firms that use this area code to charge in-bound tolls, just like the notorious 900-numbers here in the states. However, it appears that in the Dominican Republic those numbers reside alongside the many legitimate telephone numbers in the 809 area code. The trick is to get you, the telephone customer, to call one of these toll numbers without your suspecting the call is more than just a long distance call .

Once you make that call, you are legitimately required to pay the bill. Remember, the bill is not from your long distance provider, but from the number you called. Your long distance provider 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://thedirectory.org/pref/ for a complete list care area codes. There are other sites to check for help, including the AT&: T fraud site at http://www.att.com.fraud/home.html.
An "urgent message" on your answering machine is but one of the myriad variations to get you to call for more information. If the number is one of the toll numbers, you are not the one who is going to get rich.

George Mindling © 2003

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