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Sorry, Wrong Number

Scammers use Toyota recall campaign to trap careless dialers.

Q. Is it true that Toyota is charging vehicle owners for recall information?

A. Absolutely not, but some motorists received that bogus information—and were asked for their Social Security numbers—when they dialed what they thought was the manufacturer’s recall hotline.

Soon after Toyota launched its free recall-information help line—1-800-331-4331—crafty scammers obtained a phone number that was just one digit off. Misdialing callers who reached the scammer’s number were greeted with a recording that instructed them to call another 800 number to get vehicle recall information, and that $6 would be added to their phone bill.

It’s another example of “cramming,” a scheme to sneak unauthorized charges into your phone bill. This ploy is also used by hotlines advertising psychic readings, horoscopes and other services. You are instructed to press a certain digit, which routes your call to an expensive 900 phone number. Similarly, some shady telemarketers edit tape-recorded conversations to make it seem as though you authorized their calling charges.

To protect yourself against cramming, carefully review your phone bill each month for such third-party charges (they are often listed on a separate page) and contact your phone service provider if you spot them.

The phony Toyota number is still in operation, with instructions to call that second number. But the recording that refers to recalls has been removed, replaced with an offer for free service.

If you fell for this scam, alert your phone company to have the $6 charge removed, and check your credit report in coming weeks to determine whether your Social Security number was used to open fraudulent credit accounts in your name.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about health and consumer issues.


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