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The age old saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' is unfortunately applied by scammers with alarming frequency. The same old scams keep getting repeated, likely because these time-tested tricks work. Once commonly referred to as the 809 or 473-scam, this scam, according to one source, is making a comeback, or maybe never truly vanished.
The 809 or 473-scam essentially attempts to get victims to call certain international phone numbers that appear to be domestic in order to use the person's phone carrier to pass through pay-per-minute and connection charges, similarly to the 1-900 numbers that used to advertise heavily on late night TV until the internet came along and all but ended that racket. Essentially, if you think an area code looks unusual, it could literally cost you money if you don't look it up before you call back.
You Have to Call Back to Get Scammed
The trick to not getting taken in by this con is rather simple: just don't call back foreign area codes. However, scammers are rather skilled at tricking people. In addition to calling repeatedly and not saying anything, or pretending to know you, or hanging up right as you answer, or sending urgent text messages or voice mails requesting a call back, scammers also send letters and post job ads asking people to call back specific phone numbers to get information about lucrative-sounding jobs.
Basically, once a victim calls back, a scammer will charge the victim's phone service for a connection fee as well as an exorbitant per-minute charge while trying to keep the victim on the phone as long as possible to rack up those pay-per-minute charges.
How Is This Even Possible?
Most people assume that if the number they are calling follows the convention US phone number format (1(234)567-8900) then the number is located in the United States. However, this is simply not true. Not only does Canada use this format, but so do islands in the Caribbean, as well as the US territories. In countries where there is no distinction for premium numbers, like how the 1-900 numbers work in the US (976 in Canada), premium numbers that cause callers to incur charges look similar to a regular US number.
As such, if you receive, or miss, a call or even get a text from an unknown area code, you should run a quick web search for where the area code originates. If it is actually a foreign area code, unless you know that a family member or friend is traveling or living in that country, and would actually call you for urgent help, you probably should just ignore it.
Below is the list of the area codes compiled by Inc.com that will appear to be similar to a US area code on your caller ID, but you should be wary about calling back.