Opinion: Warnings about "area code 809" inaccurate, ineffective
Warnings have been issued about a scam in which people receive
messages to call a phone number in area code 809, that turns out
to be an international call and may therefore have relatively
The FCC and the FTC have failed to take measures to directly
address this problem or to effectively educate the public about their options.
Starting about 10/96, word went out about a scam in which
people received a message to call a phone number in
area code 809.
At the time, calls to area code 809 could have gone to any one
of several countries in the Carribean, but the particular phone
number involved was in the British Virgin Islands.
As such, any calls placed to this 809 phone number would
have been billed at international rates.
There were several problems with the reports of this scam:
- The reports claimed that callers were charged $25 per minute,
but most phone companies charge only about $1.50 per minute for this call.
The only way this will happen is by explicitly agreeing to premium
charges or by providing a calling card or credit card number after
the call is completed, by using an alternate operator service,
or possibly by calling from an aggregator such as a hotel.
(If you have personal experience with these $25 per minute charges,
please tell me about it.)
- The reports rarely mentioned that the same scam might be pulled
with any one of about two dozen new area codes in the process of being
assigned to the Carribean -- watching out for area code 809 would not be
- The reports failed to mention that customers might be able to
have their long-distance carrier block calls to the Carribean and/or
to block all international calls.
In spite of the FCC and the FTC throwing up their hands at this problem,
there's something that most consumers can do to protect themselves
against this problem:
if you don't have much occasion to call the Carribean, contact your
long-distance company and ask them to block such calls!
Will they do it?
Some will, some won't.
I spoke to AT&T and MCI, and they said they offered some
form of international blocking.
Sprint customer service said they did not have such a service.
Call your own phone company and then let me know
what they tell you, and I'll post the information here.
- FTC Consumer Alert
This is one of the better notices about this scam, because it identifies
numerous area codes other than 809 that this scam could apply to.
- FTC halts fraudulent scheme
One scam stopped, how many more to go?
- FTC Fast Facts
This talks about a variety of pay-per-call problems... needs updating!
- FTC International Telephone Number Scams
A recent advisory that makes it appear that 809 is the only problem area code.
- National Fraud Information Center
Oops, another warning with no mention of area codes other than 809.
- Internet Scambusters
This appears to be a comprehensive review of the problem, identifying the area code
changes in progress in the Carribean (but if you'd like a more authoritative list of
these changes, check out
NANPA's area code change list or
Rifton's area code change list).
By the way, in spite of the claims that the 809-496 prefix listed in their
message goes to the Dominican Republic, the AT&T and MCI operators continue
to tell me it terminates in the British Virgin Islands.
Of greater interest is their claim that certain ranges of phone numbers in the
Caribbean are "pay-per-call" numbers.
AT&T's Media Relations department has been unable to confirm the reports of pay-per-call
numbers, and claims that all international calls are billed at the tariffed rates,
as quoted by AT&T operators.
- Ann Landers
Ann Landers column of February 2, 1997 references only 3 area codes.
- AT&T press release
This may be the earliest announcement of this scam.
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Updated January 10, 2001