809 Phone Scam

Don’t respond to emails, phone calls, or pages which tell you to call an ‘809’ phone number:
Internet ScamBusters #8

This is a very important issue of Internet ScamBusters because it alerts you to a scam that is:

  • spreading *extremely* quickly
  • can easily cost you $100 or more, and
  • is difficult to avoid unless you are aware of it.

There are lots of different permutations of this scam, but here is how it works:

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.

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.

We’d like to thank two of our readers for bringing this scam to our attention — both will receive Internet ScamBusters! tee shirts. This scam has also been identified by the National Fraud Information Center and is costing victims a lot of money.