John received an e-mail that stated his bank had requested a charge-back of $20. The e-mail included two phone numbers along with an account name and ID number and asked that he please call.
John contacted his bank and was told there were no transactions in his account on the 19th of March, the date cited in the e-mail. Then he called the 800 number listed in the e-mail. The automated answering machine said, “Payment Processing Center. Please hold.” Then a voice came on and said, “Please call back later,” and he was disconnected.
John took a look at the second number in the e-mail and decided to contact our office because he did not recognize the 809 area code. This area code is for the Caribbean. Since an international operator is not required to call the Caribbean or Canada, many people don’t realize they are making an international call to what is, in effect, a 900 number that can result in a huge phone bill.
Scams have come from a number of the 16 area codes in that part of the world. It works this way. You receive an urgent message on your pager or answering machine telling you a relative is in trouble and it asks you to call an area code you don’t recognize. You place the call only to find you have called the Caribbean, and you become the victim of a long distance scam that results in an outrageous phone bill.
It isn’t obvious that you have called outside the U.S. because you are not required to dial a long distance operator or code for calls to the Caribbean or to Canada? Crooks take advantage of this fact and con unsuspecting consumers into placing calls to numbers that turn out to be pay-per-call numbers, but without the warning that you are about to be charged for the call as is required in this country.
You may find that neither your local nor long distance phone company will become involved because they are providing the billing for a foreign company and are not directly responsible for the charges. Quite likely you will end up dealing with a foreign company that will argue that it has done nothing wrong and that, after all, you are the one who called its number. Never mind that it used deceptive tactics to convince you to call, such as leaving a message saying your loved one was ill or in trouble.
Be wary if you receive an e-mail or other message with a number from the Caribbean. Keep in mind that a number of long distance scams are operating out of that area.