If you have a cell phone, you probably check your Caller ID before answering a call. If you miss a call, even if you don’t recognize the number, you may be tempted to ring the caller back.
Don’t do it.
It could be a scammer calling, trying to lure you into a scheme that will trick you into calling an international pay-per-call scam, reminiscent of those phone sex scams.
And you’d be in for an inflated phone bill.
Wireless callers have been receiving calls from numbers with a three-digit area code, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The calls appear to be domestic, but they’re actually coming from an international pay-per-call fraud ring.
And these scammers are tricky, indeed.
They don’t call with a sales pitch or try to get you to share personal information. There are no high-pressure tactics. No threats that you’ll go to jail if you don’t pay a fake IRS bill or fees for missing a jury duty notice.
You receive a call, and you never talk to anyone. That’s because the call is disconnected after one ring.
Sounds innocent enough, but the swindle happens when you call the number back.
If you do make the call, you’ll be connected to an international hotline of sorts. You’re charged a fee — usually in the $20 range — just for connecting.
You’ll also be charged by your carrier for making an international call, whether you have signed up for international service or not.
The scammers then use a few tricks to try to keep you on the line. You may hear a long message. Or perhaps someone asks you to hold on, and you’re stuck listening to elevator music.
Each minute you stay on the line will cost you more because, like those live sex phone lines, there’s a per-minute charge for the call.
By the time you hang up, you may have racked up a hefty bill.
In a variety of this scam, con artists will leave you a voice mail message that says they’re from a law enforcement agency or a hospital. They’ll say there’s an emergency and they leave a number for you to call back.
A number for that costly fraud hotline.
This con tricks even sophisticated scam-watchers because the area codes for the numbers that call you, or for those you’re told to call back, appear to be coming from within the United States.
But they’re not.
You see, there are plenty of countries that have three-digit codes that look no different from domestic area codes. You might think the call is coming from Texas, or Arkansas, or anywhere in the U.S.
But these three-digit codes are for nations that don’t fall within the laws of our country.
For example, Jamaica’s area code is 876. The British Virgin Islands’ code is 284, Grenada is 473, Turks and Caicos is 649, the Dominican Republic is 809 and Antigua is 268. Other Caribbean nations have been the host of this scam, too.
While the swindle isn’t only generated from these island locations, they all do come from nations that use three-digit codes that mirror phone numbers in the United States. Those three numbers are the scammers’ beard.
If you don’t know every area code — and who does? — it’s easy to be fooled.
There are several steps you can take to make sure you’re never tricked into falling this cash grab.
If you never make international calls from your cell phone, you can have your carrier block all international calls — both incoming and outgoing. Some carriers will only block calls from certain countries.
Whether you try a block or not, make sure you never answer calls from any number you don’t recognize.
If the call is important or a true emergency, the caller will probably call you back. Or they may leave a voice mail. Still be cautious, though, if someone leaves a message because they could be leaving you a pricey number to call back.
If you’re just too curious to let the call go, plug the number into a search engine and see what comes up.
Look up the area code. If it’s from a Caribbean country or any non-U.S. area, unless you have friends or family who may be traveling abroad, it’s safe to bet that the call is a phony.
Then be sure to check your phone bill for any irregular charges.
If you fell for the scam, contact your wireless carrier immediately and see if they’re willing to help you with these unexpected charges.
Next, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at fcc.gov/complaints or by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC.
You can also complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or by calling 1-877-382-4357.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.