On April Fool’s Day, “F” almost always stands for “Fun,” as people devise pranks – from the simple to the exotic – to amuse their friends. But for some unscrupulous con artists, “F” stands for “Fraud” on April 1st and every other day of the year.
With the approach of April Fool’s Day, AT&T takes aim at the world of con artists by identifying some of the scams most likely to fool consumers and businesses: Making international calls without realizing it, callers posing as company representatives, cellular cloning and Internet schemes.
Consumers targeted most frequently by con artists include the elderly, non-English speaking people and those who use public phones. Businesses of all sizes fall prey to the scams of unscrupulous hustlers as well.
Nearly all communications fraud results in illegal international calling. The bulk of these fraud activities occur in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Miami and other cities with significant international calling.
To combat communications fraud, AT&T has systems in place to detect and deter many types of long distance fraud. But because the most effective safeguard against fraud is prevention, the company is committed to educating consumers.
“Consumer education is one of the most effective ways to combat fraud,” said Rich Petillo, AT&T corporate security manager. “It is important to teach all members of the family — especially the elderly and children — on how to avoid being defrauded at home and in public places.”
Here are some of the most common frauds that consumers and businesses fall prey to:
Making International calls without realizing it
It’s not always easy to tell if you’re dialing an international telephone number. In most cases, you have to dial “011” to begin a call to a foreign country. But there are locations outside the U.S. whose telephone numbers may look like domestic long distance calls, but they are actually international calls and international rates apply.
There are many scams that deceive consumers into calling international numbers. You may see a job ad in a newspaper that directs you to call a specific number, or you may receive a page, an e-mail message or an “urgent” message on your answering machine. You may be told a family member has been injured, you’ve won a prize or you owe money and legal action is pending. All messages direct you to call a number for more information – almost always an international number.
Be cautious about area codes you don’t recognize, especially 809, 268 and 664. Check your telephone directory or call the operator to determine where the area code is before making your call. Tell everyone in your family that telephone numbers beginning with “011” or “809” are international calls. Control access to your telephone so unauthorized callers do not use your phone to make international calls. Beware of the 5-digit disguise. You may be told to dial a 5-digit code before the international number. This makes it less apparent that it’s an international call. For example, you may see a newspaper employment ad for a “mystery shopper” that lists a telephone number for more information. When called, a recording on that number instructs you to call another number with a “special access code” such as 10288+1- 809-XXX-XXXX. Callers to this number hear a lengthy recording that simply recites the names and addresses of mystery shopper companies. Meanwhile, you don’t realize that you have made an international call.
Callers posing as company representatives
Someone calls claiming to be a representative of your long distance or credit card company. The caller may say that there has been unauthorized use of your calling or credit card and ask to “verify” the number and PIN. Or, the caller may ask you to help in an investigation by asking you to accept the charges for third-party calls billed to your number. The caller assures you that you won’t be charged for the calls. If you hesitate or seem reluctant to cooperate, the caller may threaten to terminate your telephone service, or say that you’ll have to pay for all fraudulent calls charged to your phone. A business may receive a call from someone posing as a telephone technician who says he is “testing the lines.” The caller may ask for an outside line, or to be transferred to extension “900” (thereby securing an outside line).
No reputable company will ever ask for your calling card or credit card number unless you are actually initiating an operator-assisted calling card call or are charging merchandise to your credit card. Never accept third-party charges from anyone you don’t know. You can be sure that AT&T – and other long distance companies – do not ask their customers to help trap telephone con artists. Businesses should instruct employees not to transfer any caller to an outside line or to any extension they are unfamiliar with.
Many cellular numbers can be “cloned” – stolen electronically and used to make illegal calls. The owner is unaware the number has been compromised until the bill arrives, listing the fraudulent calls.
When possible, consumers should purchase a digital cellular phone which includes protection against cloning. Also, secure or destroy all materials that the phone has been shipped in that may carry the telephone number, including the box and packing slip. Be aware of suspicious activity such as many hang-ups, which may indicate your number has been cloned. Review your monthly bill carefully for unauthorized calls.
Common Internet scams include programs that download virus- ridden software, pyramid schemes and illicit business opportunities that promise a “get rich quick” guarantee. Also, some people reveal too much information about themselves. Others tend to feel a false sense of security by assuming their identity can be concealed.
Be cautious when downloading any software from the Internet. Be sure the company offering software is reputable and one you can trust. Review any business investment offered over the Internet as closely as you would any business venture. Be careful about giving out your address and telephone number in e-mail. Don’t reveal too many details about your life: You could be inviting trouble if you say that you’re an avid collector of priceless rare coins (which can be okay to talk about) and then mention that you’re going on vacation for two weeks (which isn’t okay to share). Remember, online friends are essentially still strangers, no matter how much time you’ve spent communicating with them in cyberspace.
Consumers and businesses who think they have been defrauded should contact one of the following organizations:
– National Fraud Information Center at 1 800 876-7060
– Call For Action at 1 800-647-1756
– State Attorney General
– Better Business Bureau
– AT&T customers should call the number on their bill.