809 Area Code Scam

Telephone Scam
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Viral alerts circulating since 1996 warn consumers not to comply with telephone, pager, or email requests to dial phone numbers beginning with the area code 809, 284, or 876. It's a real scam, but less prevalent than the alerts suggest. These alerts have been circulating since the mid-1990s. Here's an example of one that appeared on Facebook in February 2014:

0809 Area Code
We actually received a call last week from the 0809 area code. The woman said 'Hey, this is Karen. Sorry I missed you- get back to us quickly. I have something important to tell you.' Then she repeated a phone number beginning with 0809. We did not respond, this week, we received the following e-mail:

Do Not DIAL AREA CODE 0809,0284, and 0876 from the UK .
This one is being distributed all over the UK ... This is pretty scary, especially given the way they try to get you to call. Be sure you read this and pass it on. They get you to call by telling you that it is information about a family member who has been ill or to tell you someone has been arrested, died, or to let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc.. In each case, you are told to call the 0809 number right away. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls.
If you call from the UK you will apparently be charged a minimum of £1500 per-minute, and you'll also get a long recorded message. The point is, they will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges.
The 0809 area code is located in the Dominican Republic ....
The charges afterwards can become a real nightmare. That's because you did actually DID make the call. If you complain, both your local phone company and your long distance carrier will not want to get involved and will most likely tell you that they are simply providing the billing for the foreign company. You'll end up dealing with a foreign company that argues they have done nothing wrong.

Please forward this entire message to your friends, family and colleagues to help them become aware of this scam.

Analysis: Somewhat True

Variants of the 809 area code scam alert have circulated via email, online forums, and social media since 1996. Albeit in an exaggerated and not entirely accurate fashion, the warnings describe a real scam in which consumers are tricked into dialing international phone numbers and racking up unexpected long-distance charges (though nowhere near the whopping $24,100 total or £1500 per minute reported in these rumors).

According to AT&T, the scam has become less prevalent in recent years thanks to the preventative efforts of long distance carriers.

The 809 area code scam can work because a few regions outside the U.S., including the Caribbean and Canada, can be dialed directly without the usual 011 international prefix. 809 is the area code of the Dominican Republic. 284 is the area code of the British Virgin Islands. 876 is the area code of Jamaica. Since these numbers aren't subject to laws outside those countries, there's no legal requirement to inform callers in advance of any special rates or fees. Perpetrators have conned victims into dialing the numbers by leaving messages claiming that a relative has been injured or arrested, an unpaid account must be settled, or a cash prize can be claimed, etc.

AT&T advises that consumers always check the location of unfamiliar area codes before dialing. This can be done by querying the NANPA website (North American Numbering Plan), checking an area code locator website or simply Googling the area code and viewing the top result.