Missed call could be scam



WATERBURY — A new scam is targeting Connecticut cellphone customers and could cause them to incur big charges on their wireless bills.

The state’s Better Business Bureau issued an alert this month, telling people to watch out for incoming calls they don’t recognize. As part of the scam, the person’s cell phone will ring once, and if he or she returns that missed call from a strange number, they’re connected to an adult sex line located outside of the country.

An unwanted “premium services” item appears on the person’s next phone bill, typically for a roughly $20 charge, the bureau warned.

Most pay-per-call phone numbers have a “900” prefix that alerts people to the charges, but the recent callers are disguising their identities by using international numbers, such as “268,” which is Antigua and “809,” which is the Dominican Republic.

Other calls are coming from Jamaica, Grenada and the British Virgin Islands.

That could mean a double whammy for customers — a charge for the unwanted “adult” service and the added expense of making an international call.

The scam usually targets landline customers who have publicly accessible phone numbers, so it’s unclear how the scammers are obtaining people’s cell phone numbers, which are usually private.

Although the Federal Communications Commission regulates companies that carry out the scheme, known as “cramming,” pay-per-call phone lines can be started with only a credit card.

Several websites found last week offer users the ability to create pay-per call lines — with a guarantee of keeping their identity private — with a $20 deposit and a monthly fee to get started.

The Federal Trade Commission recognized that cramming was a serious problem for consumers and has dealt with thousands of complaints about the scam from across the country.

As recently as last month, the FCC moved to have a suspected cramming company forfeit $5.23 million in assets after it claimed the company had billed customers for unauthorized charges on multiple occasions.

The regulatory agency found that in one case, an elderly man had been double billed for years after the cramming company manipulated his bill to sign him up for two long-distance providers at the same time.

Wireless companies contacted last week say they allow customers the ability to block specific phone numbers. But both the bureau and the wireless carriers advised people not to return calls from unknown, out-of-state numbers.

Neither Verizon nor AT&T could provide the specific number of complaints they have received about cramming from Connecticut customers.

Customers who have fallen victim to the scam can call their wireless providers to discuss the unwanted charges. Customers should also keep an eye on their bills.

“AT&T issues credits to all customers who call us to report cramming complaints on their bills,” Meaghan Wims, an AT&T representative said in an email. “Customers can also request to have third-party charges blocked from their bill, at no charge.”

Wims went on to say that third-party charges are in a separate section of the company’s bills. According to AT&T, the billed items may appear in general descriptions, such as “service fee,” “mail server,” or “membership,” among other examples.

Residents who have been targeted by the scammers can also file a complaint with the FCC by visiting the website www.fcc.gov/complaints. The site offers people an online form that they can complete and send to the agency.