Area code 809 telephone scam proves costly for victims
Alana Dunn / Reporter
People who don’t pay careful attention to the phone
numbers they dial could be in for a hassle – and a
hefty charge on their phone bill.
Elon University faculty and staff have recently been alerted
about a costly telephone scam involving area code 809, which
is an area code based out of the Caribbean. Although first
reported as early as 1996, the 809 scam has recently
resurfaced, bringing with it a new wave of victims.
According to the National Fraud Information Center,
here’s how the scam works: typically, a scam artist
leaves a message on Victim A’s answering machine
requesting that Victim A call a number that begins with an
809 area code. The message usually says that Victim A’s
relative has died, been arrested or injured, and Victim A
should call back immediately for more information. Once
Victim A returns the call, the scam artist tries to keep
Victim A on the phone as long as possible to increase Victim
A’s long distance calling charges.
The National Fraud Information Center also reports that the
scam works because the 809 area code is located outside the
United States, and is therefore not subject to U.S. laws.
This means that the scam artist does not have to tell callers
in advance about how much the call will cost. Consequently,
victims of the scam are unaware that they could face charges
of anywhere from $25 to nearly $2,400 per minute.
So why don’t people altogether avoid calling a number
with an 809 area code? Part of the problem is that most
people don’t know that 809 phone numbers are located
outside the United States because an international calling
code, such as 011, is not needed to dial an 809 number.
Another problem is that many phone numbers with 809 area
codes are legitimate, such as a person’s phone number
in the Dominican Republic.
Carol Brown, manager of Elon University’s Information
Systems and Technologies, or IS&T, said that the
university has not actually been affected by the scam. She
attributes Elon’s good fortune to use of reputable
telephone vendors, scrutiny of phone bills and the
termination of student long-distance service.
“We belong to a variety of telecommunications
organizations and agencies,” Brown said. “So we
receive notifications, such as calls, e-mails and
newsletters, about different scams that are going on.”
Mike Thompson, also of IS&T, said that the university is
also able to put a block on any suspicious area codes.
“When we block these area codes, it means we
can’t make or receive any calls from those
numbers,” he said. “But we can lift the block if
someone needs to call a number they know is
legitimate.” As of Oct. 28, the university blocks the
following area codes: 242, 246, 264, 268, 284, 340, 345, 441,
473, 500, 649, 664, 700, 758, 767, 784, 787, 809, 868, 869
Although Elon faculty and staff were warned about the 809
scam, students were not alerted. “I’d only heard
about the scam because of my mom,” said sophomore Abbey
Lepley. “She always had a little post-it by the phone
at home that said not to call any 809 numbers.”
Because Elon students come from a variety of states and
countries, all with different area codes, they may be at
greater risk of being scammed. For example, many North
Carolina students could be unfamiliar with the area codes of
their Pennsylvanian friends’ phone numbers, so a
legitimate Pennsylvania area code could look as foreign as
that of a scam artist in the Caribbean. “Students
shouldn’t call any phone numbers with area codes they
don’t recognize,” said Brown. “They should
verify the number with their friends, first, before they do
Contact Alana Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 278-7247.