In Sioux Falls, S.D., they have been notifying “winners” of an $8 million sweepstakes. In Cleveland, the promised jackpot allegedly is from a Jamaican lottery—and the caller claims to be from the local Better Business Bureau. Other ploys include incoming phone calls or e-mails purporting to be from FedEx or a sick relative or offering discounted “sex” talk.
No matter the reason given, the intended victim invariably is asked to wire money overseas—and to dial a callback number. Area codes to call include 876, 809 and 284.
The request to wire money outside the United States, in itself, should raise a red flag. Once money leaves the country, it is outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement and cannot be recouped.
But a sneaky double whammy happens if you dial one of those area codes for more information about the phony prize, missing package or ailing family member. Each is for a Caribbean country, where the per-minute rate is often $3 or more—at least 10 times higher than long-distance service in the United States.
Because overseas phone numbers are not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, their owners can charge whatever they want. After luring people to call a faux-American area code number, the ploy is to keep them on the telephone as long as possible to run up charges through a series of transfers or lengthy conversations, costing the victims hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Only when their phone bills arrive do they realize they’ve been duped.
This Caribbean calling con is not new but seems to be making a reappearance. The latest spin, at least in the Cleveland area, prompted new warnings from BBB chapter Vice President Sue McConnell.
“We were alerted by an elderly woman who was told she won $3 million from a man identifying himself as David Chambers, and that she needed to call an 876 phone number for more instructions,” she says. “When I called that phone number—which I didn’t know was the area code for Jamaica—he answered the phone, ‘Better Business Bureau.’ He was unflappable in insisting he was calling from the Cleveland BBB. When I told him I was calling from the Cleveland BBB, he told me there was no way I could know everyone in our 30-person office and that I needed to talk to my supervisor.”
The intended victim—instructed to wire $400 to Jamaica to claim her prize—didn’t dial the 876 number because she knew it was a scam, says McConnell. “She had lost $2,700 several years ago in a similar scheme.”
- No matter how enticing the promise, do not respond to any callback numbers with area codes 876 (Jamaica), 809 (Dominican Republic) or 284 (British Virgin Islands). They’re the most frequently used in this scam. Other Caribbean area codes—which may appear to be in the United States because there’s no need to use the 011 international calling code—include 441, 473, 664, 758, 784 and 868.
- You can check the origin of any unfamiliar area code by calling directory assistance at 411 or by typing the three-digit number followed by the words “area code” in a Google or other Internet search.
- If you don’t usually make international calls, ask your local phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.
- Remember that no legitimate sweepstakes ever requires any payment in advance in order to claim your prize.
If you are billed for a call you made as a result of this scam, first try to resolve the matter with your telephone company. If you are unsuccessful, you can file a complaint online with the FCC or by calling 1-888-225-5322 toll-free.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).