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809 Area Code Scam Warning Email

Outline
Circulating messages warn that consumers are being tricked into dialling international telephone numbers and thereby incurring enormous call charges of thousands of dollars per minute.

Area Code Scam Warning

© Depositphotos.com/SergeyNivens



Brief Analysis
International call scams are real. However, the information about these scams in the messages is inaccurate and misleading. The messages substantially exaggerate the potential costs to victims. The information was not issued by AT&T as suggested in some versions of the warning.

Update
In early 2014, a UK based version of this warning message began circulating. For more information about the UK version, see:

HOAX - 'Calls to 0809 Area Code from UK will be Charged at £1500 Per Minute'

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Examples

Subject: New Area Code - PLEASE READ and be sure you pass it on.

0809 Area Code

We actually received a call last week from the0809 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 with0809. We did not respond. Then this week, we received the following e-mail:

Do not dial Area Codes 0809, 0284, and 0876 from the UK, U.S, Australia or Canada ......

This one is being distributed all over the U.S ...... 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, U.S, Australia or Canada, you will apparently be charged a minimum of

$2425 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 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.


Subject: Costly NEW AREA CODE: READ AND PASS ALONG

VERY INTERESTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

New Area Code - PLEASE READ Be sure you read this and pass it on.

809 Area Code

We actually received a call last week from the809 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 809. We did not respond. Then this week, we received the following e-mail:

Do Not 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.

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 809 number right away. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls.

If you call from the U.S. , 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.

WHY IT WORKS:

The 809 area code is located in the Dominican Republic .
The charges afterward 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.

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


Subject: Fw: IMPORTANT INFO ABOUT AREA CODES

IMPORTANT INFO ABOUT 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. I 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.

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 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 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.

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

Sandi Van Handel
AT&T Field Service Manager
(920)687-904


Detailed Analysis


These messages, which circulate via email and social media sites, warn that consumers are being tricked into dialling international telephone numbers and thereby incurring enormous call charges of thousands of dollars per minute. Earlier versions of the message claim that the information was issued by American telecommunications giant, AT&T. A later variant omits the AT&T reference and adds a zero to the listed area codes.

There are serious inaccuracies in the message as explained later in the article. However, international call scams are real. In the US, international telephone numbers can usually be identified by the prefix "011". However, some non-US destinations have area codes such as 809, 284, 876 and others that can make telephone numbers look like domestic calls when they are actually international calls that incur international call charges. Scammers have capitalized on this element of confusion in order to trick people into dialling such numbers. A previous Federal Trade Commission (FTC) article about international telephone number scams noted:
You could end up with a hefty phone bill if you call such an international telephone number. That's because each country sets its own telephone rates and there's no limit to the per-minute charge. The companies urging you to call have an incentive to keep you on the line as long as possible because they receive a portion of the international long distance charge. The more often you call —and the longer you stay on the line — the more they profit."
Although such scams do occur, they are not a common or widespread practice. An article about area code fraud on the AT&T website that was first published back in 2004 notes:
The 809 area code scam first surfaced five years ago and continues to victimize consumers on occasion, although much less frequently than in the past. And there have been far more inquiries about it than consumers actually being victimized.
Another article about the scams published on the AT&T website explained:
Periodically, e-mails warning of a scam involving calls from the 809 area code circulate. The e-mails contend that there has been fraud associated with unscrupulous pay-per-call operators in that area code. However, the message contains some misinformation, especially the highly exaggerated cost of a phone call to the 809 area code, which is a legitimate area code for the Dominican Republic. Fortunately, this scam is less prevalent in recent years as a result of work done by AT&T to eliminate access to fraudulent pay-per-call operators.
In order to avoid being caught out by International call scams, consumers should remain vigilant and be very cautious about dialling unfamiliar area codes. "Urgent" or "important" answering machine or email messages that request recipients to call a number for more information should be treated with suspicion until the number can be verified. Consumers can easily check the true destination of area codes by entering the number into a web-based Area Code Decoder.

Consumers who have no need to make international calls may be able to eliminate the risk of such scams by asking their service provider to block international calling.

Although the core claims in this email warning are basically factual, it contains seriously inaccurate and misleading information as detailed below:

  1. The message substantially exaggerates the potential costs to victims.

    Legitimate and factual information about the scam was published in a 1996 issue of the well respected Internet ScamBusters. However, someone began circulating an altered version of the article via email without the permission of the authors. The message further mutated as it travelled and claims about the per minute call costs incurred by victims of the scam became more and more wildly exaggerated. The current version of the message claims that callers can be charged $2425 per minute - a far cry from the possible charge of up to $25 per minute reported in the original ScamBusters article. An updated ScamBusters article about the 809 fraud published in 1999 points out that such massive charges are highly unlikely and suggests that a total charge for a scam call could possibly reach $100 - a long way short of the message's outrageous claim of charges as high as $24,100.00. Also, the 2004 article debunking the message on the AT&T website notes:
    The e-mail also warns consumers that dialing the 809 area code will result in charges of $2,400 per minute. That simply isn't true. The basic rate for a call to the Dominican Republic is less than $4 a minute although some 809 numbers terminate with pay-per-call services that permit the levy of additional fees.

  2. The warning that recipients should never dial the area codes discussed ("DON'T EVER DIAL AREA CODE 809, 284 AND 876") is unrealistic and misleading.

    In the vast majority of cases these area codes are connected with perfectly legitimate, normal phone numbers. For example, if you happen to have friends or family living in Jamaica then it is likely that you will need to dial the area code "876" along with their domestic phone number. Although such calls will be charged at international call rates, there is no scam involved. Thus, the message's implication that the area codes 809, 284 or 876 are only used by scammers is unfounded.

  3. The claim that the 809 area code belongs to the British Virgin Islands is now untrue.

    809 is the area code for the Dominican Republic while the second number listed in the message is for the British Virgin Islands. Also, the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas are entirely separate locations and are not different names for the same place as suggested in the message. (Note that an updated version of the scam warning does correctly identify the 809 area code as belonging to the Dominican Republic.)

  4. The message was not sent by AT&T and the apparent endorsement by an AT&T Field Service Manager named "Sandi Van Handel" is entirely bogus.

    According to the previously mentioned AT&T article, "the e-mail purports to originate within AT&T's corporate offices and includes the name and partial telephone number of an imaginary employee." It seems apparent that the bogus references to AT&T were added in an attempt to give false authority to the message. A later version of the message leaves off the supposed "Sandi Van Handel" endorsement but still falsely suggests that the warning was issued by AT&T.
Because of the misleading and inaccurate nature of the information in the message it should not be forwarded in its current form. A much better method of warning others about international call scams would be to simply direct them to an accurate web based report on the issue. Unlike an email forward, a website article can be updated if new information comes to hand. Furthermore a website article is not susceptible to random mutations caused by transcription errors or reader alterations. In fact, this long running email chain letter represents a very good example of why forwarding such warnings via email is NOT a good idea. As stated, the original Internet Scam Busters article was a timely and accurate advisory to consumers about international call scams. However, after being stolen from the original source and subsequently forwarded many thousands of times over a number of years and altered considerably along the way, the message's value as a legitimate warning has been quite significantly eroded.

By all means, make yourself and others aware of the potential for fraud associated with international phone calls. However, sending on an inaccurate and misleading email about this issue is likely to be counterproductive.

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Last updated: April 4, 2014
First published: June 28, 2006
Written by Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

References
International Telephone Number Scams
AT&T: AREA CODE FRAUD
809 Area Code Scam
Area Code Decoder
Internet ScamBusters: 809 Scam (Original Article)
ScamBusters: 809 Area Code Scam Update