By Elaine Zimmermann
Jonathan: I just looked at my phone bill and I was charged $3.92 for a one-minute call to area code 868, a foreign country. I thought all three digit area codes were in the United States. Do you know anything about this?
Elaine: What you are talking about is one of the most recent scams to hit the Internet. Unscrupulous businesses list contests or other "free" offers that require you to call and listen to a recorded message. They make their money by having you call a foreign country with a three digit area code, which most people assume is within the United States, and then charge you an outrageous per-minute fee. By the time the charge appears on someone's phone bill a month later, the caller has no idea what the charge is for.
A different version of this scam is targeting cell phone users. Someone places a call from a three digit area code outside of the United States leaving an "urgent" or "obscene" message. The tactic is to entice the cell phone owner to call back the number and "raise Cane" for several minutes to an answering machine. Some of these scams charge the unsuspecting angry return callers up to $25 a minute to vent their anger.
Most of these scams bill amounts around $3 to $5 per minute to go unnoticed by phone customers. Many use odd amounts such as $3.92 to look more legitimate.
Another scam uses an 800 number that rolls over to a non-U.S. phone number. Here is how it works. You see an ad on the Internet or in a newspaper for an overseas job opportunity as a "secret shopper". You call the listed 800 number and are left on hold for 15 to 20 minutes while you are "rolled over" to an international "pay-per-call" number. When you are finally connected, you're told all the positions have been filled. Many are charged $100 or more for the call.
You can dispute these with the phone company and have the charges removed, but millions of people never bother. Many never notice the charges. The companies that use this tactic are counting on a large percentage of people not disputing the fees.
Here the three digit area codes which are in Canada, not the U.S. They are: 403, 587, 780, 250, 604, 416, 647, 519, 226, 613, 343, 905, 289, 418, 581, 514 and 438. If your calling plan does not include unlimited calls to Canada, you will be charged for these calls.
The Caribbean and Atlantic islands are the most common origin for these types of schemes. Here are the island area codes: Bahamas 242, Barbados 246, Bermuda 441, St. Vincent & the Grenadines 784, Grenada 473, Dominican Republic 809 and 829, Anguilla 264, Turks & Caicos 649, Antigua & Barbuda 268, Montserrat 664, British Virgin Islands 284, St. Lucia 758, St. Kitts & Nevis 869, Cayman Islands 345, Dominica 767, Jamaica 876 and Trinidad & Tobago 868.
Elaine Zimmermann is a personal finance expert who was written about everyday ways to save money on cars, homes, vacations and more. For information on investing in foreclosed real estate you can visit her website at www.AskElaineZ.com.