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The 809 Area Code Telephone Scam

The "809" scam has many permutations but they all involve a message to you (either by e-mail, phone or pager) that you immediately call a number in the "809" area code to avoid some bad consequence (such as litigation, or to receive information about someone who has been arrested or died) or to gain some good benefit (such as winning a wonderful prize).

The "809" area code is in the Caribbean, yet most people are not aware that they are making an international call when they dial the "809" area code. "809" calls can be "pay-per-call" numbers (such as 900 numbers in the US) - and there are no legal requirements that callers be informed that they are being charged extra. When you return a "pay-per-call" 809 call, they try to keep you on the phone as long as possible, and you are charged very high rates for the call, reportedly up to $25 per minute.

New information: Until recently, the "809" area code covered the entire Caribbean. However, that's changed. There are now a series of new area codes for different countries in the Caribbean. That means there are now additional area codes which victims can unknowingly call with the same results as the original "809" scam. The "268" area code is already reportedly being used by scam artists. And you can be sure that the scammers won't take long to start using these new codes in a big way.

According to representatives at AT&T, here are the new area codes and their effective dates:

Country Code
Bahamas 242
Barbados 246
Antigua 268
Cayman Islands 345
Monsterrat 664
St. Lucia 758
Puerto Rico 787
St. Kitts/Nevis 869
Jamaica 876
Bermuda 441
N. Commonwealth 670
Trinidad &Dominica 767
Tobago 868

Several countries are keeping the 809 area code, such as the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Virgin Islands, Martinique, St. John (although St. John may change to 268), St. Thomas, and St. Vincent.

And there's more. AT&T supplied us with a long list of "pay-per-call" numbers. The numbers on this list may include adult sex lines, resume lines, and other "pay-per-call" numbers.

(Please note: this list does not include all of the "pay-per-call" numbers in the Caribbean - and there may be numbers included below that are not "pay-per-call" numbers. Our purpose here is to warn readers of the scope of this problem.)

Antigua / St. John
268-404-4000 to 404-6999

Dominican Republic
809-404-4000 to 404-6999
809-412-0785 to 412-0787
809-412-0960 to 412-0964
809-414-1000 to 414-1499
809-470-0000 to 414-1949
809-474-0001 to 474-9996
809-476-0105 to 476-0112
809-476-0131 to 476-0135
809-476-0314 to 476-0319
809-476-1001 to 476-1020
809-476-1200 to 476-1229
809-476-1350 to 476-1399
809-476-1400 to 476-1446
809-476-1600 to 476-1629
809-476-1765 to 476-1796
809-476-1930 to 476-1999
809-537-0300 to 537-0899
809-540-5000 to 540-5199
809-563-0000 to 563-0199
809-563-0300 to 563-0699
809-563-9000 to 563-9199
809-563-9300 to 563-9899

St. Vincent
809-456-0000 to 456-9999
809-457-0000 to 457-9999
809-458-0000 to 458-9999
809-485-0000 to 485-9999
809-490-0000 to 490-9999
809-493-0000 to 493-9999

Summary: Be very careful returning phone numbers to area codes you don't recognize, especially when you receive calls, emails or pages with urgent messages that you call these numbers. Call your long distance phone company's operator to find out where the area code is located (or look it up on the net), and only call numbers that make sense to you.

Two additional "pay-per-call" number scams:

SCAM: Some 800 numbers reportedly roll over to "809" and other foreign "pay-per-call" numbers with little or no warning.

A representative at AT&T warned us of a common scam she encounters. Here's how it works: You see an ad on the Internet or in a newspaper for an overseas job opportunity as a "secret shopper" or a "mystery shopper." You call the listed 800 number to either learn more or to apply for the job. You are left on hold for 15 to 20 minutes. You are either warned that the call is being rolled over to a toll call, or you're not warned. However, even when people are warned, they don't realize that the roll over is to an international, "pay-per-call" number. When you are finally connected, you're told all the positions have been filled. When you receive your phone bill, you have a very large charge.

SCAM: "809" and other "pay-per-call" numbers can be used to cheat businesses who offer fax back services.

Many companies offer a computerized fax-back service where the company faxes requested documents to a phone number entered by the caller. The caller can get the fax-back service to call back their "pay-per-call" number. When the business calls this "pay-per-call" fax number to send the documents, they are charged the very inflated rates. You should consider protecting your business from this scam by blocking area codes such as those listed above.

Permutation #1: Internet Based Phone Scam Via Email

You receive an email, typically with a subject line of "*ALERT*" or "Unpaid account." The message, which is being spammed across the Net, says:

I am writing to give you a final 24 hrs to settle your outstanding account. If I have not received the settlement in full, I will commence legal proceedings without further delay. If you would like to discuss this matter to avoid court action, call Mike Murray at Global Communications at +1 809 496 2700 (this number would then be the toll call).


Permutation #2: Phone Or Pager Scam

You 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 or died, to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc. In each case, you're 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 $25 per-minute! Sometimes the person who answers the phone will speak broken English and pretend not to understand you. Other times, you'll just 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 $100.00.

Here's why it works: The 809 area code is located in the Caribbean. 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 US 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 US phones have 900 number blocking (to avoid these kinds of charges), 900 number blocking will not prevent 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, investigate further and/or disregard the message. Be *very* wary of email 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 our 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.

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