Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe has issued a consumer alert, warning consumers in his state about a telephone scam that is showing up more and more. Instead of trying to sell something over the phone, these con artists try to convince consumers or businesses to help them forward a phone call.
If the consumer agrees to help, thinking they are being Good Samaritans, they will instead find expensive long-distance or collect-call charges on their phone bills.
The scam is usually referred to as the "72#" or "*72" scan, because these are the telephone codes commonly used by individuals and businesses to forward phone calls. With some business-phone systems, the code may be "90#".
What many people do not realize is that when someone forwards a call to a long-distance, collect, or other pay-service phone number, charges for those services are placed on their account, not to the phone from which the call originated. Con artists count on their potential victims not knowing that distinction.
The oldest form of this scam involves a caller posing as a phone-company technician. Claiming to need access to check a phone line, the caller asks whoever answers to input a code designed to give the technician remote access to the line. In reality, the unknowing target is giving the caller free access to his or her phone line and the con artist is then able to make expensive phone calls on the victim's dime.
SBC Arkansas and other phone companies assure consumers that, with available technologies, technicians can access phone lines remotely and never require customer assistance to do so.
The increasingly common version of this scam is the caller who claims that there is an emergency. Sometimes the caller will say he is on a pay phone and does not have the change to make an emergency long-distance call and asks for assistance. Beebe advises consumers to remember that pay phones allow collect calls to be dialed directly from the booth, meaning that such claims from a stranger should be considered suspect.
Just this week, a Florida prison inmate duped people he called into believing he was a law-enforcement officer or a medical professional trying to reach a victim's relative.
"Usually, these con artists are not targeting specific people; they're just hoping to find a sympathetic ear," Beebe said. "However, if they can trick you into forwarding your phone to another number, they can repeatedly make calls that will be charged to your phone. Keep a close eye on your phone bill, and contact your phone-service provider if you think there are calls on your account that you did not place."
If a consumer believes that he has just fallen victim to this scam, he can press "#73" or "*73", depending on the service provider, to turn off the call forwarding.