Local leaders wary of increase in telephone scams

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
A recent increase in telephone scams nationwide has community leaders cautious.


Noreen Weems, director of Marion County Senior Citizens, said no one in the county has reported being affected by the scams to date, but people should “be aware of the scams in case they do show up.”


According to Emmanuel Mendy, an AT&T representative, telephone scams across the United States, including Kansas, have cost more than $4 billion for telephone companies and consumers.


One popular scam involves the use of an 809 area code.


International telephone calls usually begin with “011.” But some locations outside of the United States have phone numbers that appear to be a domestic long-distance number.


Area codes such as 809, 284 and 876 are actually area codes in the Caribbean. These international calls can be expensive.


The scam occurs in different ways, including an ad for a service that instructs you to call a number with an unfamiliar area code, sends a page on a pager, relays an e-mail or leaves an “urgent message” on an answering machine.


Generally these messages ask you to call the number for more information about the “urgent message.”


AT&T advises consumers to be cautious about unfamiliar area codes.


“If a customer has a question, it is possible to call the 1-800 customer service number to determine where the area code is before making the call,” Mendy said.


If customers used the “O” for operator, they would be charged for the operator services, he said.


If you never would need to make an international call, it is also possible to have your long-distance carrier place an international block on your telephone line, which will prevent any international calls from being made on your phone.


Another scam sends an automated message that says you have won a prize or money. You may then be instructed to dial a two-digit code preceded or followed by the * or # keys, such as “90#” to claim the purported prize.


Mendy said following the instructions will program the telephone to forward calls to a long-distance operator.


Con artists can then call your number and be forwarded to the long-distance operator, placing long-distance calls that are billed to your home.


If you receive this type of call, AT&T suggests you hang-up. If you find such a message on your answering machine, disregard the message and do not place the call.


Another common scam is “cramming,” in which telephone customers are charged for services they have not ordered or received.


Another scam is “slamming,” where consumer telephone services are switched without permission.


Switching services can be done when a consumer receives mail instructing them to call an 800 number to make arrangements to receive a sweepstakes prize.


When the call is made, an automated system is activated and you become enrolled in a club or special program and the charges are added to your telephone bill.


Or, you may receive a call from a telemarketer asking you to change long-distance services, even if you decline the offer, the switch may be made without your consent and added charges placed on your bill.


Southwestern Bell also reports a problem with a fraudulent number being given out as a Southwestern Bell long-distance information number.


According to representative Brian Kruse, the correct number to call for Southwestern Bell long distance information is 1-877-PICK-SWB. Kruse said this number is free of charge to callers.


Some customers have reported calling a similar looking number 1-800-PICK-SWB, and having an auto mated voice system inform them by dialing “1,” they would be provided the correct number for SWB long distance for a “call-connect fee” of $1.99.


“Southwestern Bell simply does not charge consumers a fee to connect them to our customer service representatives,” said Shawn McKenzie, president, Southwestern Bell-Kansas. “This look-alike phone number is in no way associated with Southwestern Bell or Southwestern Bell Long Distance, and we caution consumers to be careful of these types of tactics that can easily confuse an unsuspecting caller.”


Kruse reminded consumers that Southwestern Bell lists toll-free telephone numbers for local customer service assistance in the front of Southwestern Bell directories.


AT&T and Southwestern Bell advises consumers to protect themselves from these scams and other potential problems by the following:


n Never give your calling-card number to anyone over the telephone, unless you initiate an operator-assisted call.


n When filling out contest entry forms or surveys, be sure to read the small print to make sure the promoter is not signing you up for a calling card, voice mail or another type of telephone service.


n Read your monthly bill carefully and watch for unfamiliar company names, logs or charges that you don’t understand or don’t remember ordering. Call your phone service provider or the number associated with the charge and ask for an explanation.


n Request offers from communications providers be sent to you in writing so that you may review them before making a decision.


n When a marketing representative calls, record the name of the company represented, the name of the representative and a return call number in case you need to contact the company in the future.


n If you have a question about your long-distance carrier, call toll-free at 700-555-4141.


More information about telephone fraud is available at the AT&T Web site: www.att.com.

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