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Home --> Inboxer Rebellion --> Scams --> Call Forwarding Scam

Call Forwarding Scam

Claim:   Scammers con victims into forwarding their phones to other numbers.

Status:   True.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2004]

To All:

Last Tuesday morning my wife fell victim to a phone scam and I want to alert everyone I know about this fraud. She got a "wrong" number call asking for "Jason." When she said he had the wrong number he faked panic and said "please don't hang up." I just got picked up by the police for outstanding traffic warrants. I only get one call and my little boy is waiting at school for me to pick him up. He will be very scared. Please call my mother and ask her to pick him up."

She agreed to make the call. He gave her what supposedly was his mother's number but by dialing it the way he directed, she unknowingly forwarded our phone number to this other person's phone number. When I got home from work she told me what happened and said she tried all day to call his mother but just got a busy signal. I told her that I was sure that if the guy explained what happened to the guards that they would have arranged for the kid to be picked up and not to worry about it.

Friday, I was working late and got a call from my son-in-law about 6:30 asking me if I knew there was something was wrong with my home phone. He said that he tried three times to call us at home but each time he got someone in Plano. I picked up my office phone and dialed my home number and also got a lady in Plano who said she had been getting calls from someone asking for Glen or Kay for the past 4 days.

I then called Verizon's repair service and told them I needed my phone repaired. After being put on hold for several minutes the customer service rep came back on and asked if I had gotten a call from a jail or prison lately? When I said yes, he told me we had been conned into letting strangers place long distance and collect calls against our phone bill.

Verizon said that they won't be able to tell me how much damage was done until the invoice prints out in about three weeks. The customer service rep also said that it could be hundreds or even thousands if international calls were placed. She said that legally I am responsible for the bill since my wife forwarded the number, even if she did not know she was doing it. Also she said that I could dispute the charges and sometimes they make adjustments for this type of thing. She also asked me to tell my friends and neighbors about what happened and that a huge phone bill can result from doing someone a favor like this. I hope this story keeps one of you from making a similar mistake.

Origins:   Given how often we've been asked about the validity of the #-9-0 telephone scam over the years — even though that scam doesn't affect the ordinary residential or cell phone Telephone customer — it's surprising we've received so few inquiries about a call forwarding scam which can be effectively pulled on a large segment of the phone-using public. A recent resurgence of this scam in some parts of the U.S. has prompted us to put up this article to increase awareness and help head off additional instances of this con.

The call forwarding scam typically starts out with the scammer's calling a victim and pretending to be in an urgent situation with a desperate need to contact someone else. A typical scenario is that the scammer claims to have been arrested for a minor traffic infraction (such as having outstanding warrants for unpaid tickets or driving with a suspended license) and needs to call a relative to come pick up his children from the police station. Supposedly, the scammer has "accidentally" dialed the wrong number and claims he cannot place another call (usually by invoking the myth that arrested persons are allowed only a single phone call), so he pleads with the victim to help him complete the call by forwarding him to the correct phone number.

However, the forwarding instructions provided by the scammer don't simply forward the current call to another number; they set the victim's phone to forward all subsequent incoming calls to another number. This scheme allows the scammer to use his victim's phone as a relay for long-distance calls, with the victim being none the wiser until he spots the unusual charges on his next phone
bill.

For example, suppose the victim's phone number is 345-1234, and the scammer has a cell phone with the number 890-6789. The scammer may instruct the victim to "Dial *72 and then 890-6789," a sequence which activates the call-forwarding feature for the victim's phone number and tells the phone company to forward all calls placed to 345-1234 to 890-6789 instead. The scammer can then instruct acquaintances all over the world to call him collect at 345-1234 (or to place third-party calls to anywhere in the world and bill them to 345-1234) — the scammer can approve all these charges (because all calls placed to 345-1234 are being forwarded to his phone), but the owner of 345-1234 is the one on the hook for paying for them (because they were forwarded through his number). The forwarding will continue until the victim issues instructions to cancel it; if the victim doesn't receive many incoming calls, he may not even notice something is amiss until he receives his next phone bill and spots the unauthorized charges for hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.

As AT&T explains the scam:
Star-7-2, billing back to you: You receive a call from a stranger posing as a telephone technician or telling you that he has been arrested for driving with a suspended license and is in jail — or is in a situation that requires your immediate help. "I need to reach my wife and tell her what happened so she can pick up our two kids. Would you dial *72 and then her number?"

Star-7-2 is a custom feature for call forwarding. When the customer dials *72 followed by a telephone number, it activates the call forwarding feature causing all your incoming calls to ring at another number. At the end of the other line — whether calls have been forwarded to a landline, a cell phone or a payphone — the original caller's partner-in-crime is able to accept all collect and third-party calls, while telling your own legitimate callers that they have the wrong number. You get billed for all calls made because your number is the one from which they are forwarded. This ingenious scam, which even overrides cell phones inability to get collect calls, may go on for several days before you become aware it has occurred.
(Of course, this scheme only works if the victim had previously signed up for the call-forwarding option with his phone service provider. And although *72 is the sequence most commonly used for call forwarding, some phone service providers may use different sequences.)

The best way to avoid falling victim to this scam is the obvious one: never activate your call forwarding feature at the request of someone you don't know. Only forward your calls when you want them to go somewhere else.

Additional information:
    April Foolproof: AT&T Alerts Consumers About the Latest Scams   April Foolproof: AT&T Alerts Consumers About the Latest Scams
  (AT&T)
Last updated:   12 July 2004

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2014 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
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  Sources Sources:
    O'Brien, Jodie Munro.   "Sumter Residents Targeted in Scam."
    The [Leesburg] Daily Commercial.   4 July 2004.

    Kansas City Star.   "Scam File: Call Forwarding Maneuver."
    4 July 2004.