E-mail Overhypes Danger of 809 Phone Scam

The threat of the “809” phone scam–in which individuals try to trick people in the U.S. into calling a seemingly-national, but actually-international phone number–is blown ridiculously out of proportion by an e-mail circulating the net.

The basic premise of the e-mail is true. The area codes do lie outside the United States and certain scam artists do try and trick people into the U.S. into calling them. But experts say that the chances of this actually happening are very low.

Date Captured: 1/13/04

The Today Show mentioned it, as did CNN

809 Area Code

We actually received a call last week from the 809 area code.
The woman said “Hey, this is Karen. Sorry I missed you–get back to us
quickly. Have something important to tell you.” Then she repeated a phone number beginning with 809. We didn’t respond.

Then this week, we received the following e-mail:

Subject: DON’T EVER DIAL AREA CODE 809, 284 AND 876


This one is being distributed all over the US. This is pretty scary,
especially given the way they try to get you to call. Be sure you read this and pass it on to all your friends and family so they don’t get scammed!

MAJOR SCAM: Don’t respond to Emails, phone calls, or web pages which tell you to callan “809” area Phone Number.

This is a very important issue of Scam Busters because it alerts you to a
scam that is spreading *extremely* quickly, can easily cost you $2400 or
more, and is difficult to avoid unless you are aware of it.

We’d like to thank Verizon for bringing this scam to our attention.
This scam has also been identified by the National Fraud Information Center
and is costing victims a lots of money.

There are lots of different permutations of this scam.


You will receive a message on your answering machine or your pager, which
asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809. The reason you’re
asked to call varies. It can be to receive information about a family
member who has been ill, to tell you someone has-been arrested, died, to
let you know you have won a wonderful prize, etc. In each case, you are
told to call the 809 number right away. Since there are so many new area
codes these days, people unknowingly return these calls.

If you call from the US, you will apparently be charged $2425 per-minute.
Or, you’ll get a long recorded message! The point is, they will try to
keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges.
Unfortunately, when you get your phone bill, you’ll often be charged more
than $24,100.00.

WHY IT WORKS: The 809 area code is located in the British Virgin Islands(The Bahamas). The 809 area code can be used as a “pay-per-call” number, similar to 900 numbers in the US. Since 809 is not in the US, it is not covered by U.S.
regulations of 900 numbers, which require that you be notified and warned
of charges and rates involved when you call a pay-per-call” number.

There is also no requirement that the company provide a time period during
which you may terminate the call without being charged. Further, whereas
many U.S.homes that have 900 number blocking to avoid these kinds of
charges, do not work in preventing calls to the 809 area code.

We recommend that no matter how you get the message, if you are asked to
call a num! ber with an 809 area code that you don’t recognize, just
disregard the message.

Be wary of e-mail, or calls, asking you to call an 809 area code number.
It’s important to prevent becoming a victim of this scam, since trying to
fight the charges afterwards can become a real nightmare. That’s because
you did actually make the call. If you complain, both your local phone
company and your long distance carrier will not want to get involved and
will most likely tell you that they are simply providing the billing for
the foreign company. You’ll end up dealing with a foreign company that
argues they have done nothing wrong.

Please forward this entire message to your friends, family and colleagues
to help them become aware of this scam.

Sandi Van Handel
AT&T Field Service Manager

The history of this e-mail is interesting. It started off life in 1996 as a legitimate scam warning written by Internet ScamBusters. According to ScamBuster’s debunking of their own mutated warning, this e-mail is based almost entirely on their original write-up, right down to an error they made in their initial article (equating
the British Virgin Islands with the Bahamas).

The e-mail is correct that these domestic-looking area codes are indeed international, and that you can call one without realizing that they’re outside of the U.S. However, they are now out of date. The actual codes and countries are as follows;

  • 809: Dominican Republic
  • 284: British Virgin Islands
  • 876: Jamaica

Where the e-mail goes even more radically wrong is with the rates it claims victims are charged. The e-mail claims the that victims were hit with charges up to $2425/minute, totaling more than $24,100.00.

According to AT&T’s debunking of this scam the actual rate is much lower. According to the site:

The basic rate for a call to the Dominican Republic is less than $3 a minute although some 809 numbers terminate with pay-per-call services that permit the levy of additional fees. Since numbers located offshore are not subject to U.S. laws, there are no legal requirements that consumers be informed in advance of the extra charge.

While this is a legitimate scam, AT&T says that there have been far more inquires about the scam than actual victims of the scan. For more on this and other scams, check out Verizon’s scam page.

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