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Guide

'One Ring' Wireless Phone Scam

The FCC has recently learned of a new phone scam targeting wireless consumers.

Some wireless consumers are receiving calls from phone numbers with three-digit area codes that appear to be domestic, but are actually associated with international pay-per-call phone numbers.  These calls often disconnect after one ring, not giving the consumer time to answer the call and tempting them to return the call.  If you receive a call like this and do not recognize the number of the incoming call, do not return the call.

If you return the phone call, you may be connected to an international hotline than can charge a fee just for connecting, along with significant per-minute fees if they can keep you on the phone.  These charges may show up on your bill as premium services.

This scam appears to be a variation of an old long distance phone scam that tricks consumers into receiving high charges on their phone bills.  In the past, telephone consumers have been fooled into making expensive international calls by scam artists who leave messages on consumers' answering machines or their email accounts.  The messages urge consumers to call a number with an "809," "284," "876" or some other area code to collect a prize, find out about a sick relative, or engage in sex talk.

How the Scam Works

  • Your wireless phone rings once or twice and then disconnects the call.  When the number appears in your wireless phone log as a missed call, it appears to be a typical domestic telephone number; or you get an email or voicemail telling you to call a phone number with an "809", "284", "876" or some other three-digit international area code.
  • When you return the call, you assume you are making a domestic long distance call – as "649," "809," "284," "876" and other area codes involved in this scam, appear to be typical three-digit U.S. area codes.  When you dial the three-digit area code plus the number, however, you are connected to a phone number outside the United States, often in Canada or the Caribbean, and are charged expensive international call rates, and may be charged for pay-per-call services as well.  (For example, "649" goes to the Turks and Caicos, "809" goes to the Dominican Republic, "284" goes to the British Virgin Islands, and "876" goes to Jamaica.) 
  • You don't find out about the higher international call rates until you receive your phone bill.

How You Can Best Avoid the Scam

  • Check any unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
  • Be aware that many 3-digit area codes (mostly in the Caribbean) connect callers to international telephone numbers.
  • If you do not otherwise make international calls, ask your local or wireless phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.

What to Do If You Are a Victim of This Scam

If you are billed for a call you made as a result of this scam, first try to resolve the matter with your telephone company.  If you are unable to resolve it directly, you can file a complaint with the FCC.  There is no charge for filing a complaint.  You can file your complaint using an FCC online complaint form found at www.fcc.gov/complaints.  You can also file your complaint with the FCC's Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC  20554

The best way to provide all the information the FCC needs to process your complaint is to complete fully the online complaint form.  When you open the online complaint form, you will be asked a series of questions that will take you to the particular section of the form you need to complete.  If you do not use the online complaint form, your complaint, at a minimum, should indicate:

  • your name, address, email address and phone number where you can be reached
  • the telephone and account numbers that are the subject of your complaint
  • the name and phone numbers of any companies involved with your complaint
  • the amount of any disputed charges, whether you paid them, whether you received a refund or adjustment to your bill, the amount of any adjustment or refund you have received, an explanation if the disputed charges are related to services in addition to residential or business telephone services
  • the details of your complaint and any additional relevant information

Filing a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

If you feel that you are a victim of an international phone scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC online at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.  You can also submit a complaint by calling the FTC toll-free at 1-877-382-4357 (voice) or 1-866-653-4261 (TTY), or writing to:

Federal Trade Commission
CRC - 240
600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC  20580

For More Information

For information about other telecommunications issues, visit the FCC's Consumer Publications Library at www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/consumer-publications-library, or contact the FCC's Consumer Center using the information provided for filing a complaint.

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'One Ring' Wireless Phone Scam Guide (pdf)

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