Your Money ; Scam Alert
; Save a Buck
Check that area code or you’ll rack up big bills
Dialing for Trouble By Sid Kirchheimer
The fraudsters say you’ve won a lottery or a free vacation. Or there’s a package for you awaiting delivery. They give you a phone number and tell you to call for details.
The come-ons to call may arrive by letter, email or voice mail. If you dial, expect
to be hit with a pitch to wire an upfront fee
or disclose personal information.
But even if you laugh off that request—
you’re wise enough to know it’s a scam—
you may discover you’ve still been duped,
simply because of the area code you used.
On the surface, the code may seem all-American. It has three digits, and there’s
no 011 international dialing code in front
of it. You think you’ll be paying just a few
cents a minute for a U.S. call. But, surprise, you’ve just called a foreign country.
If the area code is 284, 809 or 876, you’ve
called Jamaica, the Dominican Republic
or the British Virgin Islands, new hotbed
homes of telephone scams. Similar cons
are also run out of other Caribbean islands.
For these calls, you’ll typically pay $1.49
to $3.99 per minute, depending on the
plan and carrier. You’re never told this,
but the numbers function like
Dial one of these Caribbean
numbers and chances are
you’ll get pitched for some
scam. But the thieves’ real goal is often just to keep
you on the line as long as possible and maximize
their take. You’ll endure long holds, frequent trans-
fers and lots of small talk. Result: A call lasting just
a few minutes can cost more than $20, a charge you
discover only when your phone bill arrives.
Some cons try to get you to call Canada, which
also has three-digit, U.S.-style area codes. But this
time it’s generally not about your phone bill but
various fake prizes or the notorious “grandparents
scam”—you’re told your grandchild has been arrested and needs you to wire bail money.
If you try to contest such a charge with your
off on a road
trip, save cash
where best to
gas up. Consider these three websites: Fuelcost
.com and GasBuddy.com will tip you
off to en route fueling spots reported
to have the cheapest gas. Also, enter
your start and finish address or city,
and your car’s make and model, for the
approximate cost of gas for the journey. Cost ToDrive and GasBuddy both
have phone apps. —Sid Kirchheimer
; Donating Your
Body to Science
real goal is often
just to keep
you on the line
telephone company, it may push back,
saying that all it did was connect you
to a foreign number that you willingly
dialed, and that it has no control over
the high per-minute costs.
In that case, you can go to the Federal
Communications Commission website
fcc.gov/complaints to tell your story. Or
call the FCC Consumer Center at 1-888-225-5322.
There’s no guarantee you’ll get the charges voided,
but your tale could help build a case for tougher
regulations against this kind of scam.
Your best strategy: Avoid the charges in the first
place. Never call back a strange long-distance number. First look up the area code by going online or
checking the area code charts in the front section
of your phone book. Don’t dial unless you know exactly where you’re going. ;
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your
Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.
Donating your body for medical
research certainly promotes science, but it can also mean savings.
Facilities that accept donations
provide a free cremation—which
typically costs $1,500 to $3,000—
and generally return the ashes after
four weeks. (Funeral services are
not covered.) Arrangements can
be made in advance. Since 2008,
donor inquiries have increased at
places like Anatomy Gifts Registry,
a Maryland nonprofit that supplies
body specimens for approved research, and Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Arizona, which
specializes in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cardiovascular research.
“Those contacting us ultimately
do the greater good,” says spokesman Brian Browne, “but with the
financial crunch, there is now
greater interest among people
who want to
have the final arrangements taken
care of.” —Joan