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Phone scams ring up big bills

Pa. urges: Be wary of dialing certain area codes. They could be overseas toll calls.

A Philadelphia woman who wanted to prevent her elderly parents from being scammed ended up being victimized herself - one of many recent cases that prompted a warning yesterday from the state attorney general.

The women's parents had received multiple telephone messages urging them to verify a Nevada sweepstakes win, said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Attorney General Tom Corbett.

When the woman called to try to end the messages, she did not realize the call was placed to outside U.S. boundaries, so as she was bounced from one supervisor to another, the meter was ticking, Frederiksen said.

At one point, when the woman became insistent that the calls stop, she was told that they would continue "every day from now until forever" unless she sent a check for $100, he said.

The woman eventually hung up and contacted authorities, but not before racking up what is likely to be a whopping phone bill, said Frederiksen. He said these con artists use international phone numbers - in Jamaica (area code 876), the Cayman Islands (345), the British Virgin Islands (284) and the Dominican Republic (809) - that resemble U.S. numbers but are unregulated.

Unlike most foreign destinations, callers do not have to dial a special code for the country and have been charged as much as $400 a minute, Frederiksen said.

The scam surfaced about three weeks ago in Southeastern Pennsylvania but has occurred throughout the country, Frederiksen said. Other variations of the scam involve a request to call the number for information about an injured relative.

Frederiksen said U.S. phone companies have been alerted, and he urged consumers to be wary and to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an online consumer complaint at


if they receive such calls. "An unsolicited message about a lottery prize is going to be a scam at least 99 times out of 100," he said.