In early October 1996, someone sent out spam that tricked people into calling an 809 (Dominican Republic) phone number, and the callers were likely billed about $.50/minute . About a week later, an organization called ScamBusters got a hold of this information, and reported (incorrectly) that it could cost up to $25/minute and $100+ total. People passed this information on through chain letters, where $25 and $100 got turned into $2,425 and $24,100 (due to encoding and human error).
Everyone from the BBB to Attorneys General got duped, thinking something barely worthy of the term 'scam' was a huge deal. There is no evidence of anyone ever having complained about their phone bill from this! The hoax, on the other hand, causes huge problems.www.spokeo.com
Despite hundreds of newspaper articles, warnings by police, sheriffs, district attorneys, attorneys general, colleges and universities, there is one lynchpin that keeps this whole thing alive: that it might have cost $25/minute to call these numbers (which then snowballs into the higher figures). The prospect of getting charged $25/minute is scary (and worthy of informing others of); getting charged $.25/minute is not. If that $25/minute can be disproven, the whole thing can be shown to be a hoax, since all the warnings mention amounts of money that are based on the $25/minute rate.
The truth is that there is just one source for that $25/minute amount: The original ScamBusters article, which said "apparently be charged $25 per-minute." Their alert went out on 07 Oct 1996, 5 days after the scam started, so nobody had gotten a phone bill yet. Their alert was based on reports from 2 people, and quoted no sources for any of their information. Five days later, they issued a new alert, mentioning "reportedly up to $25 per minute." So their story changed from a flat rate per call to a variable rate.
On 21 Nov 1996 (6 weeks after the scam started), Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune said that the $25 figure was a 'wild error', and that you are billed standard international rates. The truth is that it cost people about $.50/minute to make the call back in 1996. On 12 Jan 1997, an intelligent Usenet poster claims that he for 6 months requested that anyone with proof of 809 calls cost more than the normal international rate to let him know; nobody responded. We also sent an E-mail to the one of the authors of the original ScamBusters article, asking if he had any evidence that anyone ever paid more than the standard international rate. No response. A reputable website has requested evidence of surchages for 8 years, with no takers.
So it seems very clear that the $25/minute that all the hoaxes are based on was completely made-up, most likely to try to get people to hype the ScamBusters article. A good job they did!
|Public Statements about 809 Numbers and Hoax|
|They can cost you 'as much as $25 per minute'||Hoax. The ScamBusters article incorrectly stated 'you will apparently be charged $25 per-minute'. This figure was made up, presumably by one of the people that reported it to ScamBusters (and not the authors of ScamBusters). There is no evidence of anyone having paid anywhere close to $25/minute for a call to the 809 area code.||Nebraska Attorney General|
|They can cost '$25.00/minute and up'||Hoax. The ScamBusters article incorrectly stated 'you will apparently be charged $25 per-minute', which was then embellished by some random person to make it appear worse. The $25/minute figure was made up, presumably by one of the people that reported it to ScamBusters (and not the authors of ScamBusters). There is no evidence of anyone having paid anywhere close to $25/minute for a call to the 809 area code.||El Dorado County, CA Sherriff's Office|
|They can cost '$25 to $100'||Hoax. It appears that Snopes was going by a quote they read in the Denver Post "Most people have been charged for a minute or a few minutes at $25 each", which would result in $25-$100 being realistic. But, the newspaper was quoting ScamBusters, the source for the original $25/minute error. There is no evidence that anyone has paid $25-100 or more for such a call.04 Nov 2009 - We informed them of the hoax, and are waiting to hear back.||Snopes|
|They can result in bills 'oftentimes more than $100||Hoax. The ScamBusters article incorrectly stated that it 'can easily cost you $100 or more'. This figure was made up, perhaps based on the thought of a 4-minute call at the made-up $25/minute rate. There is no evidence that anyone has paid $100 or more for such a call.||North Dakota Attorney General|
|They can result in 'telephone bills as high as $100 to $200'||Hoax. The ScamBusters article incorrectly stated that it 'can easily cost you $100 or more'. Later, some sources embellished that bogus number to a range $100-$200. There is no evidence that anyone has paid $100-$200 for such a call.||BBB|
|You 'will apparently be charged $2425 per-minute'||Hoax. The 'apparently be charged $25 per-minute $25' in the chain letter sometimes got displayed as 'apparently be charged =2425 per-minute', which people then interpreted (and 'corrected') to '$2,425'. Not only is there no evidence of this, it is completely inconceivable that such a rate could exist.||California District Attorney|
|They can result being 'charged more than $24,100'||Hoax. The 'can easily cost you $100 or more' in the ScamBusters article sometimes got displayed as '=24100' (due to coding issues), which people then interpreted (and 'corrected') to '$24,100'. Not only is there no evidence of this, it is completely inconceivable that such a rate could exist.||Wyoming Attorney General|
|They can be 'a pay-per-call service with a hefty up-front fee'||Hoax. The ScamBusters article incorrectly claimed 'The 809 area code can be used as a pay-per-call number,' but it is not pay-per-call, nor can 'up-front fees' occur with international long distance calls.||Snopes|
|This scam is 'spreading extremely quickly'||Hoax. The ScamBusters article stated that '[the scam is] spreading extremely quickly'. While the chain letter spread quickly, there are only confirmed reports of a dozen or so people that may have fallen for the scam (there may well be plenty more that didn't bother reported it due to the small amount they were charged).||Chicago Police Department|
First, there's the fact that there are very, very few reports of anyone having ever fallen for this scam (and none include a dollar amount). "Ask Andy" says that he helped investigate this in 1998, and he is not aware of any such scam since then (as of the report, dated 13 Mar 2009). We have poured over lots of information about the 809 scam/hoax, and we have seen no evidence that anyone who called the 809 number ever paid $25/minute, or paid over $100/call, or complained about the cost they paid, or paid any surcharges, or anything other than the standard rate. If you find any such evidence, please let us know, and we will update this page! What this really means is that anyone using terms like 'exorbinant rates', 'high phone bill', 'outrageous', 'surcharge', 'pay-per-call', etc. are perpetrating scarelore. Note that there are people who have called 809 numbers and complained about the rates -- but those have nothing to do with this scam (e.g. 'Mystery Shopper' ads where people usually knew they were paying an international rate, and getting information they were willing to pay for).
As it stands, the truth behind the '809 scam' is barely worthy of the term 'scam'. Yes, someone conned people into calling an 809 number. But the people doing so all knew that it was going to cost them money. They just didn't know whether it would be about $.15/minute for a standard long-distance call or $.50/minute for an international call. There are almost no reports of people having fallen for this, because people didn't even bother reporting the $5 or so they lost, because they knew they were paying it when they made the call. Finally, given the huge cost of the 809 hoax, any mentions of the small truth of the scam help perpetuate the hoax.
Let's say that you want to report about the scam behind the hoax. You feel that your citizens/constituents/students/whatever need to know. That's OK. While we feel that it isn't worthy of reporting, you may. However, please at least consider these guidelines if you do report it:
|809 Scam Evidence|
There is no known evidence that anyone falling for the '809 scam' ever complained about their phone bill, or paid more than standard international rates. The cost to call the 809 area code at the time of the scam was about $.50/minute. To rack up a $100 phone bill, that would take about 200 minutes. Would anyone spend over 3 hours on the phone to someone as a result of this scam? Of course, there is also no evidence suggesting that anyone paid $25/minute or $100/call.
|809 Area Code Calls Are not pay-per-call|
The layman's definition of pay-per-call is simple: any phone call where you are charged a flat rate, regardless of the length of the call. Clearly, if there is just a per-minute charge, it does not meet the layman's definition of pay-per-call. And there is no evidence suggesting that people have been charged per call for 809 numbers. It took quite a bit of research, but we found that there is a legal definition. 47 USC 228(i) of the United States legal code defines it. The 809 numbers definitely do not meet the legal criteria for 'pay-per-call'. First, the '809 scam' calls do not meet (1)(A) (since it is a scam), nor (1)(b) (there are no per-call charges, or charges above the charge for the transmission of the call), nor (1)(C) (809 is not an area code designated for such calls).