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809 Area Code Scam

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Netlore Archive: Viral alerts circulating since 1996 warn consumers not to comply with telephone, pager, or email requests to dial phone numbers beginning with the area code 809, 284, or 876.

Description: Viral alert / Forwarded email
Circulating since: Mid-1990s
Status: OVERBLOWN (see details below)

Example #1:
Email text contributed by Todd W., Feb. 6, 2005:

Subject: 809 AREA CODE

We actually received a call last week from the 809 area code. The woman said "Hey, this is Karen. Sorry I missed you--get back to us quickly. Have something important to tell you." Then she repeated a phone number beginning with 809. We didn't respond.

Then this week, we received the following e-mail:

Subject: DON'T EVER DIAL AREA CODE 809, 284 AND 876

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION PROVIDED TO US BY AT&T. DON'T EVER DIAL AREA CODE 809

This one is being distributed all over the US. This is pretty scary, especially given the way they try to get you to call. Be sure you read this and pass it on to all your friends and family so they don't get scammed! MAJOR SCAM:

Don't respond to Emails, phone calls, or web pages which tell you to call an "809" area Phone Number.

This is a very important issue of Scam Busters because it alerts you to a scam that is spreading *extremely* quickly, can easily cost you $2400 or more, and is difficult to avoid unless you are aware of it.

We'd like to thank Verizon for bringing this scam to our attention. This scam has also been identified by the National Fraud Information Center and is costing victims lots of money.

There are lots of different permutations of this scam.

HERE'S HOW IT WORKS:

You will receive a message on your answering machine or your pager, which asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809. The reason you're asked to call varies. It can be to receive information about a family member who has been ill, to tell you someone has been arrested, died, to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc. In each case, you are told to call the 809 number right away. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls.

If you call from the US, you will apparently be charged $2425 per-minute. Or, you'll get a long recorded message The point is, they will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges. Unfortunately, when you get your phone bill, you'll often be charged more than $24,100.00.

WHY IT WORKS: The 809 area code is located in the British Virgin Islands (The Bahamas). The 809 area code can be used as a "pay-per-call" number , similar to 900 numbers in the US. Since 809 is not in the US, it is not covered by U.S. regulations of 900 numbers, which require that you be notified and warned of charges and rates involved when you call a pay-per-call" number.

There is also no requirement that the company provide a time period during which you may terminate the call without being charged. Further, whereas many U.S. homes that have 900 number blocking to avoid these kinds of charges, do not work in preventing calls to the 809 area code.

We recommend that no matter how you get the message, if you are asked to call a number with an 809 area code that you don't recognize, just disregard the message.

Be wary of e-mail, or calls, asking you to call an 809 area code number. It's important to prevent becoming a victim of this scam, since trying to fight the charges afterwards can become a real nightmare. That's because you did actually make the call. If you complain, both your local phone company and your long distance carrier will not want to get involved and will most likely tell you that they are simply providing the billing for the foreign company. You'll end up dealing with a foreign company that argues they have done nothing wrong. Feel free to forward this entire message (or not) to your friends, family and colleagues to help them become aware of this scam.


Example #2:
As shared on Facebook, Feb. 12, 2014:

VERY COSTLY NEW AREA CODE:- READ AND PASS ALONG

0809 Area Code
We actually received a call last week from the 0809 area code. The woman said 'Hey, this is Karen. Sorry I missed you- get back to us quickly. I have something important to tell you.' Then she repeated a phone number beginning with 0809. We did not respond, this week, we received the following e-mail:

Do Not DIAL AREA CODE 0809,0284, and 0876 from the UK .

This one is being distributed all over the UK ... This is pretty scary, especially given the way they try to get you to call. Be sure you read this and pass it on. They get you to call by telling you that it is information about a family member who has been ill or to tell you someone has been arrested, died, or to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc.. In each case, you are told to call the 0809 number right away. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls.

If you call from the UK you will apparently be charged a minimum of £1500 per-minute, and you'll also get a long recorded message. The point is, they will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges.

WHY IT WORKS:

The 0809 area code is located in the Dominican Republic ....
The charges afterwards can become a real nightmare. That's because you did actually DID make the call. If you complain, both your local phone company and your long distance carrier will not want to get involved and will most likely tell you that they are simply providing the billing for the foreign company. You'll end up dealing with a foreign company that argues they have done nothing wrong.

Please forward this entire message to your friends, family and colleagues to help them become aware of this scam.


Analysis: Somewhat true. Variants of the 809 area code scam alert have circulated via email, message boards, and social media since 1996. Albeit in an exaggerated and not entirely accurate fashion, the warnings describe a real scam in which consumers are tricked into dialing international phone numbers and racking up unexpected long-distance charges (though nowhere near the whopping $24,100 total or £1500 per minute reported above).

According to AT&T, the scam has become less prevalent in recent years thanks to the preventative efforts of long distance carriers.

The 809 area code scam can work because a few regions outside the U.S., including the Caribbean and Canada, can be dialed directly without the usual "011" international prefix. "809" is the area code of the Dominican Republic. "284" is the area code of the British Virgin Islands. "876" is the area code of Jamaica. Since these numbers aren't subject to laws outside those countries, there's no legal requirement to inform callers in advance of any special rates or fees. Perpetrators have conned victims into dialing the numbers by leaving messages claiming that a relative has been injured or arrested, an unpaid account must be settled, or a cash prize can be claimed, etc.

AT&T advises that consumers always check the location of unfamiliar area codes before dialing. This can be done by querying the NANPA website (North American Numbering Plan) or simply Googling the area code and viewing the top result.

Sources and further reading:

The Truth Behind the 809 Area Code Scam
Better Business Bureau, 11 October 2013

Scambusters: 809 Area Code Scam
Scambusters.org

809 Area Code Scam
AT&T website

Last updated: 02/12/14

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