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Phone "scam"
Old 02-27-2009, 12:28 PM   #1
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Phone "scam"

Not really a direct scam, but a very sneaky way for the phone company to get exorbitant rates.

To make a long story short: Got a phone message from a very nice lady who used to take care of MIL. She came from Barbados, and returned there after her caregiving job. The number on my caller ID looked like a regular US phone number, 246-XXX-XXXX. Figured she was back in the States, so returned her call as a direct dial. No country code needed. Turned out she was in Barbados, got billed $3.85 a minute by Verizon, a total of around $70 for around 15 minutes.

Called Verizon to complain, they were worse than the govt, would not even entertain an adjustment even though I've been with them for 20+ years. Disconnected my phone, now have Skype, in which I pay pennies per call. If I should ever call Barbados again, it's 23 cents per minute.

Verizon claims I should have known it was an int'l call. Even if I had known, I wouldn't have guessed they would charge me that sky high price. My conclusion is that Verizon and other phone companies are laying low about these direct dial int'l numbers because it's quite profitable for them.

I sent a complaint to the FCC and to my two Senators. The FCC sent me essentially the same reply I got from Verizon, heck, I figure they're part of the problem so why should they be part of the solution?
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Old 02-27-2009, 02:21 PM   #2
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Area code 246 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I have to agree with Verizon on this one.
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Old 02-27-2009, 02:30 PM   #3
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So you would have checked Wikipedia before returning that call? Or would you have known that 1-246-XXX-XXXX is a $3.48/ min call, whereas 1-248-XXX-XXXX, for example, is a Michigan call included in a nationwide plan? Should we check from now on every time we dial a number with an area code we're not familiar with? Maybe so, but not for me, this is the old system, the new VOIP systems like Skype make this pretty much irrelevant. Actually, in the old system, one had to dial a country code for foreign numbers, so there was no doubt that the cost should be checked.

And, why wouldn't the FCC require a foreign country, in exchange for the privilege of direct LD dialing, to charge reasonable rates? I can see maybe 20, 30, 40 cents a minute, but $3.85 a minute? Come on.
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Old 02-27-2009, 02:46 PM   #4
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Here's how I solved the problem of not knowing (esp DW) where you're calling and what it will cost......

I cancelled LD service on my landline. LD from that phone now requires using a phone card which is kept in a drawer near the kitchen phone. BTW, this local only package is very cheap, the phone card is easy to use and we seldom use it anyway since our cell phones have free LD.

Cell phones - We have a plan where there are no LD or roaming charges for any call we can make from the phone. No international service. Since I retired and stopped international travel, we just don't make international calls. If something did come up where we needed to make an international call, we'd use the landline and phone card, expensive but haven't needed to do it yet.

Bottom line, we just don't have capability to dial calls that aren't part of a package or we don't use the phone card for.
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Old 02-27-2009, 03:15 PM   #5
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I do agree with the OP that there us just something "wrong" about using a product in what appears to be a normal way, and having no idea that what you are doing is causing you to be charged at a very different rate than normal. And you can't really find out until a monthly bill comes.

Yes, there are precautions you can take, but considering just about every household has a phone, it just seems like a little more transparency/simplicity is in order. It does seem like you should be alerted to calls that are extra charges (unless you opt out).

We had a similar situation with our land line. We had a very limited service, but unlimited for most of the calls in our area. We'd use the cell phones for LD. But then, other people's cell phones might be registered just outside our calling band. It could run the charges up very quickly. It was tedious to check every area code and exchange.

Fixed that, Dropped the land line, save money, got more features. Call quality on VOIP is not always the greatest, but its nice to pick up the phone and know you are not incurring charges.

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Old 02-27-2009, 03:48 PM   #6
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I switched to Vonage VOIP primarily because of random unexplained charges on the phone bill. Not much - a few bucks here and there. Hardly worth calling the telco to complain and attempt to get the charges removed (why waste 30 minutes for a $4 charge?).

Now I can go online, log into my account, and turn on/off international calling. I can also see what they charge for all international calls. 1 fixed amount charged every month unless I need to make int'l calls. Nice.
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Old 02-27-2009, 07:41 PM   #7
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A friend of mine was saying that he heard that the 806 area code was the dominican republic and that people were getting stuck with calling "back" a solicitation, thinking it was a free 800 call.
Welcome to the flat earth.
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Old 02-27-2009, 07:45 PM   #8
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Verizon is just a bunch of con artists and "slammers". They have slammed me three times now and so far all I got was a bunch of apologies. Here they are in the communication business and you just can't communicate with them. I have Verizon for TV, interner and phone (called FIOS). I called a few months ago to add Cinemax and got that plus a higher speed internet connection that I don't need. That alone raised my bill $10/ month. I've been waiting for resolution for three months. Other similar "slams" have happened. I'm convinced that they hope most people won't pay attention and will just pay the bill.
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Old 02-27-2009, 09:06 PM   #9
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So you would have checked Wikipedia before returning that call?
I do google phone numbers that I don't recognize. Not because of anything - I just don't like to be bothered.
There are reverse directories you can use also.
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Old 02-27-2009, 11:27 PM   #10
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I do google phone numbers that I don't recognize. Not because of anything - I just don't like to be bothered.
There are reverse directories you can use also.
Same here. I never call an exchange I don't recognise. These international and long distance scams have been around for decades. Just another social engineering hack. I feel your pain, but am not sure it's Verizon's problem. It would be nice if they would cut you a break since you've been a long time customer, but I guess not. I had a similar issue with Cingular when my daughter visited a friend in an area that was on the Cingular map, but didn't have reception. After a $300 roaming bill I argued and lost, with them saying she should have noticed that the phone told her she was roaming. B@st@rds!

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Yes, there are precautions you can take, but considering just about every household has a phone, it just seems like a little more transparency/simplicity is in order. It does seem like you should be alerted to calls that are extra charges (unless you opt out).
It can't be much more transparent than looking in the front of the phone book, or hitting Google. Still seems like the old "ass u me" situation to me. However, I think the OPs reaction of dumping VZ and going to Skype was a perfect response. It's the only response they'll pay any attention to.
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Old 02-28-2009, 07:50 AM   #11
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FWIW, Here is what I received from the FCC:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has become aware of a long distance phone scam that may lead consumers to inadvertently incur high charges on their phone bills.

The Scam Works Something Like This
• You get an e-mail, voicemail, or page telling you to call a phone number with an “809”, “284”, “876” (or some other three-digit) area code to collect a prize, find out about a sick relative, engage in sex talk, etc.
• You assume you are making a domestic long distance call – as “809”, “284”, “876” (and other three-digit area codes involved in this scam) appear to be typical three-digit U.S. area codes.
• When you dial the “809”, “284”, “876” (or other three-digit) area code plus the number, however, you’re actually connected to a phone number outside the United States, often in Canada or the Caribbean, and charged international call rates. (In this case, “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. Minimize the Risk of This Happening to You
• Check any area codes before returning calls.
• If you do not otherwise make international calls, ask your local 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
on-line complaint form found at esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm. You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by e-mailing
fccinfo@fcc.gov; calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice
... blah blah blah

As I said in my OP, I didn't fall for this as a scam per se, but instead as a legitimate direct-dialed returned call that I thought was in the States instead of overeseas. I really didn't know one could direct dial overseas numbers, it used to be one had to dial a country code ahead of the number.

To those posters who say they check any AC they don't recognize before they return a call: I would certainly do that in the future if I still had Verizon. With Skype it doesn't really matter. And, I don't usually return calls at all, this was a special case.

I wonder how many more like me there have been, and how many have dropped Verizon and other land line carriers. Hello... Verizon... you're so good at these recordings that we get whenever we call you, why couldn't you have placed a short recording saying the following AC is overseas? After 20 years, sayonara.



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Old 02-28-2009, 08:41 AM   #12
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FWIW, Here is what I received from the FCC:

As I said in my OP, I didn't fall for this as a scam per se, but instead as a legitimate direct-dialed returned call that I thought was in the States instead of overeseas. I really didn't know one could direct dial overseas numbers, it used to be one had to dial a country code ahead of the number.
I've had this before. Essentially, I don't call anyone back unless they leave me a message and even then I scrutinize the number. I've learned that there is not much good picking up the phone anyhow. Curiosity killed the cat.

People complain about my attitude on this, and say "What if someone wants to speak to you in an emergency"? I tell them to call 911, there is nothing I can do for them.

Think of it this way, if someone calls you from an unknown number, it's surely not the lottery office telling you you won. In the event of an emergency, keep the answering machine on, you'll recognize the voice.

For long distance I pay 15 bucks a month extra with the local phone company and it is well worth it, I know where I am calling.

Consider the fee you paid "tuition"

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Old 02-28-2009, 08:55 AM   #13
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For long distance I pay 15 bucks a month extra with the local phone company and it is well worth it, I know where I am calling.
look into International Calling Cards and Prepaid Calling Cards
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Old 02-28-2009, 09:08 PM   #14
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It can't be much more transparent than looking in the front of the phone book, or hitting Google. Still seems like the old "ass u me" situation to me.
But consider an old Grandma type that doesn't google. Maybe she gets calls from her family traveling around the USA, so seeing an unfamiliar area code does not raise a red flag. Nothing to make her think she should verify that the Area Code is within the USA, since in most people's experience, they are. Why should "246" raise a flag, when numbers similar to it don't?

It still does not seem right to me that you can be charged weeks after the fact, for what is normally a routine thing, with no warning that what you are now doing is *not* routine.

I can't think of very many business transactions that work in that mode, and the ones I can think of that are similar are/were all monopolies.

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Old 02-28-2009, 09:16 PM   #15
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If I don't know the area code, I check it before I return the call. If it's a call where international rates apply, I check on what the rate would be or else I don't make the call.

Having said that, I think it's kinda crappy that a good, reliably-paying customer for 20 years doesn't get one "mulligan" on a $70 charge, given the long term cost to the business of losing the customer and a reasonably plausible explanation that they had no idea they would be calling freakin' Barbados. I'd like to think a manager that would lose a 20-year customer over a $70 dispute would be disciplined or fired. And if they wouldn't be, then that business has a bad customer service culture.

But technically I think Verizon was in the right even as I think it was a stupid business decision to stick to their gun and lose a 20-year customer (presumably with a good payment history) over a $70 charge that customer could have been reasonably been blindsided by had they no past history of dialing into this area code.

Personally, with the possible exception of Canada (to which calling rates are usually reasonable), I wish all international calling required using international calling codes so people knew they could be racking up a big bill by making that call. But now that cell phones and VOIP are a competitive option for many people, if historically monopolistic businesses want to continue their tradition of terrible customer service ("we don't have to care -- we're the phone company") in an era where they have competition, let then dig their own graves.
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Old 02-28-2009, 10:48 PM   #16
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I once got a ~$200 cell phone bill because I tried out a video service that was preinstalled on my phone. I didn't realize that I was incurring huge per megabyte data transfer costs behind the scenes and that I should have only used the video with an unlimited data usage plan. I tried with several phone calls and letters to get them to reverse the charge, but no luck. Another case of accidentally incurring huge unexpected charges, but that was with AT&T not verizon. I'm sure all the phone companies are just as bad, so in my book there's no point in dropping verizon for that reason. I hate to say it, and I'd hate to hear it, but $70 is not a bad price for a lesson that may save you more in the future.
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Old 03-26-2009, 04:30 PM   #17
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I'd almost forgotten about this. Today I received a letter from Verizon. I was copied on their response to the FCC. I had previously filed a complaint with the FCC about their allowing direct dialed international calls at exhorbitant rates without notifying the phone user.

Verizon's response to the FCC was long, but I believe I can summarize it (in nice words) as: "go jump in the lake, we can do whatever we want."

Furthermore, they told the FCC they had tried to contact me unsucessfully about the matter. This in spite of the fact that (1) they had me as a customer for 20 years (though not any more), (2) they had no problem contacting me to send me a copy of their FCC response, (3) they have been contacting me on a monthly basis for 20 years with a bill, (4) they have my email address, since they also send me monthly reminders that my bill is ready, and (5) they obviously have my phone number -- if not the land line that I diconnected, my two Verizon cell phones.

Sometimes companies just need to go out of business.
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Old 03-26-2009, 04:54 PM   #18
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Sometimes companies just need to go out of business.
Can't even recall what phone co. we were with, but all the stories here sound vaguely familiar with the exception of the AC scam. I finally got tired of it and when what-ever-the-heck phone company I was with wouldn't drop one of their "extra" but "required" charges, I pulled the plug that day. The yahoos had the nerve to call a couple months later to ask why we'd dropped them after all these years (that's the disadvantage of transferring your phone no. to your cell.) So, I told them. They hemmed and hawed but they couldn't even come close to beating the cell phone deal I had. It was actually sort of a fun conversation - in a perverse sort of way. It's unusual when you can "best" a provider who until recently had a virtual monopoly. Sweet!
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Old 03-26-2009, 04:54 PM   #19
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Well, I can say that I got it in the rear shafted by AT&T...

My wife calls friends in Russia... twice on the same day she forgot to use the calling card.. a total of 9 minutes (short calls for her).. but the total bill was $58 for over $6 per minute!!!!

Calling them got the same response... get on a international plan and we will charge you only 19 cents!!! Say what You are willing to rip off a customer at $6 per minute when you MAKE money at 19 cents? And the calling card is only 2.1 cents per minute....

Well, I signed up for the plan which they backdated so I get a credit of $42... and next week I call and cancel the plan and all long distance services... but was told they would charge me $9 something to do that...

Now I have to learn about Skype or some other VOIP service.. any good suggestions?
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Old 03-27-2009, 10:17 AM   #20
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Well, I signed up for the plan which they backdated so I get a credit of $42... and next week I call and cancel the plan and all long distance services... but was told they would charge me $9 something to do that...

Now I have to learn about Skype or some other VOIP service.. any good suggestions?
Yeah - that $9 charge to cancel long distance was what did it for me. And I think they wanted $2-3 a month to NOT have long distance. I've never paid anything to NOT have a service. So I cut the bill in half by going to vonage. Call quality isn't quite as good, but I know how to fix it, I'm just lazy. And I get the gold plated phone package with way more features (caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, voicemail with emailed messages, etc) for $20 or so. Still $10 less than the phone co, and I can review charges online and I have only had one BS charge for $1 for dialing 555-1212 which is directory assistance. Way better than the random miscellaneous charges from Ma Bell offspring.
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