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Phone Slams and Other Scams

Did you know it is illegal for phone companies to change a consumer's telephone service without permission? This practice is referred to as "slamming." Another telephone scam is "cramming": a consumer is billed for telephone services that were not used, ordered, or authorized. For more information on phone slams, crams, and scams, visit the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Division website.

In addition to "slamming" and "cramming," a popular and recent phone scam currently circulating the District is the Area Code 809 Scam:

What Happens

You may receive a message on your answering machine or your pager which asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809 (or another unfamiliar area code). The reason that you're asked to call varies: it can be to receive information about a family member who has been ill, to tell you someone has been arrested or died, or to let you know you have won a wonderful prize.

In each case, the message tells you to call the 809 number immediately. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls. If you call from the US, you will apparently be charged up to $25.00 per-minute. You may also get a long recorded message. The point is, the scammers will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges. Unfortunately, when you get your phone bill, you may be charged hundreds of dollars for the minutes you accumulated making the call to area code 809.

How It Works​

The 809 area code is located in the British Virgin Islands (the Bahamas). The 809 area code may be used as a "pay-per-call" number, similar to 900 numbers in the US. Since 809 is not in the US, it is not covered by US regulations of 900 numbers. US regulations require that you be notified and warned of charges and rates involved when you call a "pay-per-call" number. There is also no requirement that the company provide a time period during which you may terminate the call without being charged. Furthermore, whereas many US phones have 900 number blocking to avoid these kinds of charges, it will not prevent calls to the 809 area code.

How to Protect Yourself​

It is recommended that no matter how you get the message, if you are asked to call a number with an 809 area code that you don't recognize, investigate further or simply disregard the message. Be wary of email or calls asking you to call an 809 area code number.

It's important to prevent becoming a victim of this scam; fighting the charges afterwards can become a real nightmare. If you actually make the call and later complain, both your local phone company and your long distance carrier may not want to get involved. The phone companies will most likely tell you that they are simply providing the billing for the foreign company. You may end up dealing with a foreign company that argues they have done nothing wrong.