Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Pay-Per-Call Information Services Scam

04/02 - AT&T is pulling out of the business of billing for 900 numbers, and Access — the company represented by Miss Cleo in television ads — must find another way to bill so it is trying to convince callers to use their credit cards, charging a monthly fee of $29.95 for 30 minutes.

They have also directed some callers to use an international phone number that would take their calls all the way to the tiny island of Niue and back to the United States, resulting in per-minute charges of from $7- $16.

Niue, located 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from New Zealand, between Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands, has been a favorite of some telemarketers who run porn or psychic hot lines.

With fewer than 2,000 people — and 400 telephone lines — Niue has no city or area codes, so every number on the island is 683 and four digits making it easy for callers to imagine they were making a local call but show up on telephone bills as international calls

The companies split the profits with the Niue telephone company after routing the calls through Niue and back to the United States on a leased line, where they were then dispatched to psychics around the country.

Niue has been accused of fostering money laundering, and has also been linked to a scam in which software, planted in computers, took control of modems and made calls to porn lines with numbers in Niue, unbeknownst to the owners of the computers.

Purveyors of telephone sex have gone offshore in an effort to bypass U.S. restrictions on 900 and 976 services, also known as pay-per-call information services. In some cases, advertising for the services doesn't clearly state that calls to the numbers are going overseas or that the calls will result in a significant charge to a customer's telephone bill.

The FCC and the FTC have both issued rules designed to thwart deceptive marketing of telephone information services but long-distance companies say the services seem to find ways around them.

While most international calls begin with 011, then a two-digit country code and then a six-digit or seven-digit number, Canada and some Caribbean nations have area codes and numbers that resemble U.S. long-distance numbers.

Some services even use 800 numbers as gateways to overseas calls. Callers may be directed to dial an access code that connects them directly to the service. Other services may tell callers to hang up and dial a number that turns out to be an overseas call.

Portugal, Moldova, Sao Tome, Dominican Republic and Guyana have shared profits with the sex lines and see it as a way to mine money from their telephone networks.

Fraud investigators monitor the MCI network for unusual charges to customers' telephone numbers paying particular attention to calls to Sao Tome and certain Caribbean nations, especially if customers rarely make international calls. AT&T reviews each complaint and often removes charges for first-time calls to the services.

International dial-a-porn is a persistent problem for parents who want to protect themselves from excessive telephone charges. There really aren't very many safeguards other than talking with your children about long-distance calls and sex lines and telling them how to recognize overseas numbers. You can also ask the phone company to block calls to 900 services and international calls.

Sao Tome - Island off the West African coast, adjacent to Gabon near the Equator, population of 165k with 3k land phone lines plus 5k cellular. Per minute charges of $2-7 minute discounted long distance from North America.

Parcel delivery offer postal scam is linked to pay per call telephone fraud

06/14/04 - U.K. - CONMEN are targeting Cambridge with a postal scam encouraging people to call a premium rate telephone number.

Postcards are dropping through letter boxes informing people they have a parcel waiting to be delivered.

The cards are delivered by a Leeds-based firm called Parcel Plus and urge people to ring a number to arrange a delivery time.

Trading standards today warned the number was a premium rate line costing £1.50 a minute with calls lasting for seven minutes.

It is not known if people calling the number do receive a parcel but officers, who have received a number of complaints about the scam, said it was unlikely the value would cover the cost of the phone call.

Now they are urging people to bin the cards and ignore the offer.

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said: "This is what's known as a quick and dirty scam.

"What you get is a postcard through the door saying you have a parcel to get and to ring this number. It is at premium rate and involves you being on the phone for seven minutes.

"We are sure that if you receive a parcel it will be something you haven't asked for and will be worth less than the cost of the call.

"We would urge people if they get these cards to put them in the recycle bin."

The spokesman added: "Anyone locally receiving a postcard like this for parcels they are not expecting should contact the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information on (0207) 940 7474."