Break the Chain Paying a Premium for This Scam

Created 8/5/2002, updated 11/15/2004 (11/15/2004) Pay-per-call phone lines are seen by many as evil things. So it's no surprise that a tale of unscrupulous types using it to scam unsuspecting folks out of their hard-earned cash falls on receptive ears.

SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT

Subject: FW: Police interesting scam for you....????

Below are details of a scam currently going the rounds. The police have requested that as many people are alerted as possible. Unfortunately it is a genuine scam.

Police Report !

The reason this is working so well is it plays on your good will! Picture the scene:-

You are sitting at home and there is a knock at the door. On answering it you are confronted by a respectable looking woman in a suit, who is slightly distressed. She explains that her car has broken down further down the road and she needs to contact her husband to come to her aid. Is it at all possible to use your phone to call him?

You allow her to use the phone, but being the suspicious type you stand with her as she makes the call. She dials the number, and asks to be put through to Mr Smith / Brown / Stevens (Whatever). She holds the line for about thirty seconds. She continues, "In that case can you ask him to leave the meeting for a minute I need to speak to him quite urgently." She apologies again and explains they are getting him out of a meeting.

A couple of minutes goes by and she starts to speak to her husband. She explains the situation to him, tells him what has happened to the car, is annoyed because she now can't get to her meeting, and asks what she should do now. She listens for a few seconds and then says, "Well as soon as the meeting finishes can you come to Cardiff Road / Leicester Road / Surrey Street (Whatever), where the car has broken down. Another few seconds go by, "OK, I'll see you in about twenty minutes then." She put the phone down, and thanks you ever so much for your kind assistance, even offering you a pound for your trouble, but of course you decline, it's no trouble.

She leaves and everything is fine.

Or is it? The day or week before knocking on your door she set up her own premium rate line with a telephone company at the cost of about £150, and she has dictated that calls to that number should be charged at £50 per minute. She has dialled that number. The conversation she has had with her "husband" is entirely fictitious, there is a pre-recorded voice message on the other end to give you the impression she is talking to someone. She has been on the phone for about five minutes, that call just cost you £250, the majority of which goes into her pocket, and the first you know about it is when you get your bill a month later.

To rub a bit of salt into the wound, she hasn't even committed a criminal offence. You've given her permission to use your phone. 5 occasions in Luton where this has been reported in the last couple of weeks.

Would anyone reading th is please pass it on to friends and colleagues etc. otherwise it could cost someone a lot of money.

PC Paul Toseland
Corby Business Anti-Crime Network Administrator

END CHAIN LETTER TEXT

Paul Toseland was a police constable for the Northhamptonshire (England) Police Department and did send this chain letter to several local businesses in his capacity as Community Business Officer (he moved to Canada in June, 2004). In a 2002 statement, the police department stopped short of calling the tale an urban myth and issued a desperate-sounding request that you not contact them regarding it:

"In relation to the email from PC Paul Toseland about a number of telephone scams, which appears to have been forwarded to hundreds of individuals and organisations across the country: There have been no reported incidents of this nature in Northamptonshire, however there are believed to have been a number in other parts of the country.

"PC Toseland initially issued this email to a group of businesses in Corby to alert them to this problem. The email has since been forwarded on to other areas. To the best of our knowledge it is not an urban legend as some people have been suggesting.

"This is all the information we have on this matter, so we would ask that you kindly refrain from emailing us on this subject."

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From the department's statement, it's not clear whether Toseland originated the warning or simply passed it on. Judging from its tone and some of the misinformation in it, it's unlikely it started with him. Despite the NPD's insistence that it's not and urban legend, it has all the earmarks of one: It's not dated, it's unspecific about location and tells of a crime that could happen, but provides no proof that it has happened.

Rob Dwight, spokesman for the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS) didn't shy away from the phrase "urban myth" when he told BreakTheChain.org that the scam explained in the chain letter has not - and can not - happen.

"I can confirm that "the woman in need of a phone - £50 per minute premium rate phone scam" is simply not true. It is an urban myth:

  • "A £50 per minute premium rate (similar to pay-per-call 1-900-numbers in the U.S.) tariff does not exist - the highest tariff available is £1.50 per minute.

  • "Service providers must choose a charging rate from the range offered by their network operator - they simply can't 'dictate' their own charging rates.

  • "ICSTIS has received hundreds of enquiries about this so-called deception but not one person has been able to produce a phone bill to support the story."

What this e-mail warning doesn't tell you is what to do if you fall victim to a scam like this and how to prevent it to begin with. This excerpt from the ICSTIS leaflet PREMIUM RATE SERVICES AND YOU: A Guide for Consumers should help.

"What can I do if premium rate calls are made without my permission?

"If calls have been made without your permission, you should contact your telephone company to discuss your bill.

"To prevent unauthorised calls to services being made from your phone, you should contact your telephone company for details of ‘premium rate call barring’."

Just like earlier chain letters about the 9-0-# and 809 area code scams, this one is feasible, but a partial truth is often more dangerous than a whole lie. Break this Chain.

What Do You Think?

Category: Spam & Scams
References: Northhamptonshire Police Department, ICSTIS

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