By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
If you get a one-ring call on your phone from an unfamiliar area code, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. Don’t call back.
Phone service providers report a surge in the scam that began hitting western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio last week.
Here’s how the scam, called “cramming,” works:
A call is made to your phone but after one ring, the caller hangs up, hoping you’re curious enough to call back and not aware you’ll be charged up to $20 for an international call fee and $9 per minute or more for “premium service.’’
The vast majority of the numbers have area codes outside the U.S., usually in the Caribbean.
The area codes used most often are:
• 268 - Antigua or Barbuda
• 809 - Dominican Republic
• 876 - Jamaica
• 284 - British Virgin Islands
• 473 - Grenada
People reporting the scam to The Herald said the calls most often came on their cell phones, but service providers said they couldn’t confirm that.
The Better Business Bureau advises not calling back any number you don’t recognize and checking your monthly statements carefully. Report any fraudulant charges to your service provider because the earlier they are detected, the better your chances of having them removed, the BBB says.
The truly curious should enter the unfamiliar area code into an Internet search engine to find out the source of the call before attempting to call back.
How do the “crammers” get your number?
They use auto-dialing computer technology, sometimes called robocalling, which can generate 2,000 calls simultaneously, or tens of thousands of calls in just a few hours. Once it exhausts all the viable numbers in an area code, it moves on to another area code.
The scam appears to have started on the West Coast a couple weeks ago and has steadily traveled east, said Laura Merritt, a Verizon spokeswoman.
“It was like watching the wave being done at a ballpark,’’ she said. “That’s how a lot of these scams seem to make their way across the country.’’
Phone scams certainly aren’t new to the industry, Meritt said. “But this one is creative, that’s for sure.’’
Providers can block specific numbers from trying to reach you, but Merritt said, “A lot of these folks are resourceful and they can come up with a new number.’’
Cell phone service providers urge their customers to contact them in their stores, online, or at these numbers: