You may remember my friend Thrush who spared no expense helping us uncover an insidious scam for Criminal Brief. Last week, he found himself targeted in a rather more serious voice-mail scam:
Before you say “Seriously, people fall for this?” yes, they do. All the usual warning signs are present: It’s non-specific and lacks considerable detail. It carries an implied threat, in this case of a lawsuit, which a government agency would never leave on voice-mail. It sounds like the word ‘information’ is misspelled without the R and a legitimate caller would likely omit the ‘point’ in ‘seven-three-eight-point-one-nine-one-nine’. (I say ‘misspelled’ rather than ‘mispronounced’ because I believe the digitizer is reading from text.)
Imitating the IRS takes guts– or foolhardiness. It turns out this number, 202-738-1919, has appeared in other scams including a variation of the Nigerian scam in which recipients are told they’ve been awarded a $7000 grant. All they have to do is pay a 5% award fee ($350) via Western Union.
Many will recognize 202 as a Washington DC area code, but this might have easily been a different kind of scam, one in which the con artists trick the target into unwittingly dialing a ‘premium rate’ number and keeping him on the line as long as possible. The original flimflam began with area code 900 and its descendants– any area code beginning with 9– but people caught on. They flooded AT&T and government agencies with complaints, and these hustles gradually faded away.
But fraudsters in the Caribbean discovered they can turn any old number into a $20 to $60 a minute premium call and your phone company won’t do a damn thing about it. In fact, they’ll cut off your service if you refuse to pay a bill that may extend into several hundred dollars. Some of the worst offenders use area codes 809, 284, 473, 649, 876 (and the original 9xx numbers).
Thanks to Forbes, here’s a list of area codes to be wary of if you don’t know the party you’re calling:
Next week: Friends find themselves the subject of a current scam and, as I was writing about it, my own address was used to spoof others. Be cautious out there!
Images © the Better Business Bureau