Attorney General Hardy Myers today warned Oregon consumers to carefully read their monthly telephone bills, looking for unauthorized, international long distance charges, oftentimes in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. The bills list calls to Guinea Bissau, Vanuatu in the Southwest Pacific, Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Chad, or Madagascar and consumers are often stumped as to who made the calls and how the charges ended upon their bills.
"Chances are the consumer or someone in his or her family was misled-via voicemail or pager-into calling a number with an international pay-per-call area code such as 809. These area codes are connected to fees that are calculated per minute, and can often result in exorbitant bills," Myers explained.
Most consumers have had some experience with calling 900 numbers connected to fees but other pay-per-call area codes such as 809 that consumers might not recognize include 242, 246, 264, 268, 284, 345, 441, 473, 664, 758, 767, 784, 787, 868, 869, and 876.
The fraudulent reasons used to trick consumers into immediately dialing the international numbers vary. Scenarios include access to information about an ill loved-one; a family member who has been arrested or died; or details about winning a fabulous prize. All the reasons are bogus but the long distance telephone charges are very real.
Justice investigators found that many consumers using the Internet have been enticed into clicking on web sites, some associated with adult sites that claim to be "free" or advertise that "no credit card is needed," and are then asked to download a "viewer or dialer" program. Once the program is downloaded to the user's computer, it disconnects the Internet connection and reconnects to an international long-distance phone number.
Just recently in complaints to the Oregon Department of Justice, consumers on the Internet have experienced "pop-ups" or "bubbles" on their screens that are impossible to get rid of and victims are unable to stop the dialing to a pay-per-call number or an Internet adult web site.
With interest in the Internet being very high with most Oregon residents, this form of "modem hijacking" is being reported more frequently.
Customers, in fighting the outrageous charges, are finding little sympathy from local phone companies and long distance carriers, who say they are merely providing a billing service for the foreign company. The foreign company argues that they have done nothing wrong and calls to government agencies in the foreign country often go unanswered.
Consumers can minimize their chances of being charged for unauthorized international calls by never dialing an unfamiliar area code before checking the phone book or the long distance operator. Web surfers must be skeptical and read online disclosures carefully.
Parents and grandparents should talk to any children in their homes using the Internet about being targets of "modem hijackers" and monitor their Internet use. It also is important to keep track of the web sites visited by children by checking the web browser history files and cache.
Oregon consumers may file complaints concerning unauthorized long distance telephone charges by calling the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) email@example.com