Probably every consumer hopes the people who are running scams get caught and sent to jail. But what if the people who are running scams are already in jail? Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says it's a disturbing possibility.

McDaniel recently warned consumers in his state to be on the lookout for a recurring telephone scam. And, he says, he's received information leading him to believe the whole thing is being orchestrated by prison inmates who, let's face it, have a lot of time on their hands.

In the prison phone scam, prisoners make collect calls at random. Once the inmate connects with a person on the other end of the line, he lies to the unsuspecting individual and states that there has been an accident and that this was the listed emergency contact number for the "unidentified victim."

The inmate then instructs the person to call his supervisor at *72 and the number to the jail. Once the person calls the number, however, they are not connected to anybody, but rather, they unknowingly provide the inmate with open access to their own residential phone line.

The inmate can then call anyone he wants and talk as long as he wants. Some victims of this scam have been defrauded out of hundreds of dollars in long-distance calls.

"If you get a call like this, it's important to stay calm and stay alert," said McDaniel. "Verify the information through an independent source, such as the police department, phone operator or hospital, which will help prevent you from suffering emotional, and possibly financial, stress."

Here are some other tips to help you avoid falling victim to this scam:

• Ask the caller for his or her name, position and contact information;
• Verify your loved one's whereabouts and health by calling them directly;
• Never dial an unknown number at the request of an unsolicited caller;
• Do not always rely on what appears on your caller ID as the actual person or entity calling you; check it out for yourself, especially if you are being asked for personal information;
• Never dial a number you do not know or did not find on your own; and
• Always trust your instinct. If the information you receive over the phone sounds fishy, just hang up.

McDaniel said he has no evidence that this scam is being operated out of Arkansas prisons and jails, but is asking corrections officials to investigate. He says he has learned that it is being run from other states, and is concerned that such scams can spread rapidly and are often adopted in copycat fashion.

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