The 809 Area Code Scam

(updated October 2002)

[Editor’s note: this information is likely old news to many readers, yet because this and other types of fraud won’t go away, it is worth repeating.]

Don’t respond to emails, phone calls, or pages that tell you to call an 809 phone number. This is an important issue since the cost of making that call could amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Here’s How It Works: You receive a message on your voice mail, pager, or email 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 taken ill, tell you someone has been arrested, or let you know you have won a wonderful prize. In each case, you are urged to call the 809 number right away. When you call, you may get a long, rambling recording or a person who speaks English only well enough to continue to engage you in conversation. The point is, they will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible. If you call from the United States, you could be charged an exorbitantly high per minute charge, which could total hundreds or thousands of dollars. Since there are so many new area codes these days, people unknowingly return these potentially expensive calls. And the longer the call, the higher the charges.

Why It Works: The 809 area code is located in the Dominican Republic. The 809 area code can be used as a “pay-per-call” number, similar to 900 numbers in the United States.  However, these calls are not covered by United States regulations on 900 numbers, which require that you be notified and warned of the charges and rates involved when you call a “pay-per-call” number. Also, there are no requirements for the company to provide a time period to terminate the call without being charged. Further, whereas many people in the United States have 900 number blocking to avoid these kinds of charges, the blocking will not prevent calls to numbers in the 809 area code. It is recommended that no matter how you get the message to call a number in the 809 area code, if you don’t recognize the number, don’t make the call; just disregard the message.

It’s important to prevent becoming a victim of this scam, since trying to fight the charges afterwards can become a real nightmare, if not impossible. That’s because you did actually make the call. If you complain, both your local phone company and your long distance carrier will be reluctant to get involved and will most likely tell you that they simply provide the billing for the foreign company. You could end up dealing with a foreign company that asserts they have done nothing wrong.

This issue is especially critical for those in the teleservices industry. Since we often take orders and messages for our clients, it is feasible that we could end up passing them a costly 809 number to call. Although this could be a legitimate number for them (especially if they do business in the Dominican Republic), it could also be a “pay-per-call” number. All staff should be on the alert for numbers in the 809 area code and warn clients of the possible risks in calling these numbers. After all, we don’t want a client to say that since we provided the number, it is our fault they called it and then try to bill us for the cost of the call!

(Note that there are other area codes in North America, that similarly are not in the United States and therefore do need to comply with US laws regarding 900 service.)

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2002]