The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is warning landline and wireless consumers about scammers who are calling from what appear to be domestic phone numbers.
The FCC has recently learned that an old long distance phone scam that leads consumers to incur high charges on their phone bills may now affect wireless consumers.
In the past, consumers have been fooled into making expensive international calls by scam artists who leave messages on consumers’ answering machines or their email accounts.
The messages urge consumers to call a number with an “809,” “284,” “876,” or some other area code to collect a prize, find out about a sick relative, or engage in sex talk.
Wireless consumers are now receiving similar calls from phone numbers with three-digit area codes that appear to be domestic, but upon investigation, the number is often associated with international pay-per-call phone numbers. While wireless companies are working to block suspicious numbers on their networks, some consumers may become victims of this scam.
Tip: Use a reverse phone lookup service to help identify a caller you are unfamiliar with before you return a phone call. For example, try http://whocallsme.com.
The Scam Works Something Like This:
Your wireless phone rings once or twice and then disconnects the call. When the number appears in your wireless phone log as a missed call, it appears to be a typical domestic telephone number starting with a “649” area code; or you get an email or voicemail (on your residential wired telephone) telling you to call a phone number with an “809”, “284”, “876” or some other three-digit international area code.
When you return the call, you assume you are making a domestic long distance call – as “649,” “809,” “284,” “876” and other area codes involved in this scam, appear to be typical three-digit U.S. area codes.
When you dial the three-digit area code plus the number, however, you are connected to a phone number outside the United States, often in Canada or the Caribbean, and are charged expensive international call rates, and may be charged for pay-per-call services as well. (In this case, “649” goes to the Turks and Caicos, “809” goes to the Dominican Republic, “284” goes to the British Virgin Islands, and “876” goes to Jamaica.)
You don’t find out about the higher international call rates until you receive your phone bill.
What You Can Do to Minimize the Risk of This Happening to You:
- Check any unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
- Be aware that there are many 3-digit area codes (mostly in the Caribbean) that connect callers to international telephone numbers.
- If you do not otherwise make international calls, ask your local or wireless phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.
Filing a Complaint with the FCC
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 unable to resolve it directly, you can file a complaint with the FCC. There is no charge for filing a complaint. You can file your complaint using an FCC online complaint form.
You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
The best way to provide all the information the FCC needs to process your complaint is to complete fully the online complaint form. When you open the online complaint form, you will be asked a series of questions that will take you to the particular section of the form you need to complete. If you do not use the online complaint form, your complaint, at a minimum, should indicate:
- your name, address, email address and phone number where you can be reached;
- the telephone and account numbers that are the subject of your complaint;
- the name and phone numbers of any companies involved with your complaint;
- the amount of any disputed charges, whether you paid them, whether you received a refund or adjustment to your bill, the amount of any adjustment or refund you have received, an explanation if the disputed charges are related to services in addition to residential or business telephone services; and
- the details of your complaint and any additional relevant information.
Filing a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
If you feel that you are a victim of an international phone scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC online. You can also submit a complaint by calling the FTC toll-free at 1-877-382-4357 (voice) or 1-866-653-4261 (TTY), or writing to:
Federal Trade Commission
CRC – 240
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20580
For More Information
For information about other telecommunications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau website, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center using the information provided for filing a complaint.
Frequently Asked Questions:
I received a call from an 866 area code. Is a phone number that begins with 866 legit?
The 866 area code is a toll-free area code that is used by legitimate businesses and organizations for customer service and other purposes. However, scammers can also use toll-free numbers, including the 866 area code, to make fraudulent calls.
It’s important to remember that scammers can use any area code to make their calls, so you should be cautious of any unsolicited calls and never give out personal information unless you are certain the call is legitimate.
If you receive a call from a toll-free number, including the 866 area code, and you’re not sure whether it’s legitimate, hang up and call back the number on the official website of the organization that the caller claims to be from.
What is the 866 area code and is it only used by spammers?
While it is possible for spammers to use any area code for their activities, including the 866 area code, it is not exclusive to spammers. The 866 area code is primarily used for toll-free numbers, which are commonly used by businesses and organizations to provide a convenient way for customers or clients to contact them without incurring any long-distance charges.
However, like with any other area code, scammers and telemarketers can misuse toll-free numbers to conduct fraudulent or unwanted activities. They may spoof or use toll-free numbers to deceive recipients into answering their calls or to mask their true identity. It’s always important to exercise caution and be vigilant when receiving calls from unknown numbers, regardless of the area code.
If you receive unwanted or suspicious calls from an 866 number, it’s recommended to exercise caution, avoid providing personal or financial information over the phone, and consider utilizing call-blocking services or reporting the number to your phone service provider.