The Truth Behind the Area Code Scam

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Rumors are circulating about so-called "scam area codes." According to emails, blog posts and social media on the subject, consumers are led to believe that they will be charged thousands of dollars for accidentally calling scam numbers. That's not true. While you should always check an unfamiliar area code before dialing, here's the real story.

How the Scam Works:

You get a voicemail from an unknown number. The person on the message claims there is an emergency and urges you to call a number starting with an 809, 284, 649, or 876 area code. The "emergency" varies, but common scenarios involve either an injured (or arrested) relative, an overdue bill or a cash prize to claim.

When you return the call, a variety of things may happen.  The scammer may try to keep you on the line for as long as possible, wracking up fees on a toll number. Other times, the scammer may ask you to send money or share personal information.  It seems like a normal phone scam, but what's so special about these area codes?

What's Really Happening:

The 809, 284, 649, or 876 area codes are actually for international calls. (809 is the area code for the Dominican Republic). Sometimes calls between neighboring countries do not require the usual "011″ international prefix; for instance, calls between the U.S. and Canada, or calls from the U.S. to the Caribbean. Callers may not realize they are dialing an  international phone number.

Operating outside the US provides scammers with many of benefits. For example, scammers don't have to inform callers in advance of any special rates or fees. This means that when consumers think they are dialing a normal domestic number, they may actually be calling the international version of a 1-900 number. Other times, scammers use these numbers to pretend they are based in the U.S., lending credibility to their claims.

If you call a 809, 284, 649, or 876 phone number, you will be charged for an international call and potentially extra fees. However, you will not automatically wrack up thousands of dollars in charges.

How to Protect Yourself Against This Scam:

  • Only return calls to familiar numbers. As a general rule, only call familiar area codes or do a quick Google search before placing a call.
  • Read your telephone bill carefully. Make sure that you have authorized all additional fees on your bill.
  • Like with any other phone scam, the best way to protect yourself is to just hang up.
If you believe that you have been scammed:

  • Contact the carrier with whom the charge originated. The name of the carrier and the telephone number should be printed on your bill. Often, the problem can be resolved with a single phone call.
  • If the carrier with whom the charge originated does not agree to resolve the problem, contact your carrier. They should work with you to help remove fraudulent charges.

Written by the Council of the Better Business Bureau and originally published at and republished here with full permission.

The BBB is dedicated to fostering honest and responsive relationships between businesses and consumers in the U.S. and Canada, instilling consumer confidence and contributing to a trustworthy marketplace for all.
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