Region 8 residents targeted by phone scam

By Brandi Hodges - bio | email

ASH FLAT, AR (KAIT) – In Sharp County several folks are reporting receiving a collect phone call from a really nice guy who the sheriff's department says is out to cost you money.  A phone call has led to an investigation in Sharp County.  An officer for the sheriff's department is one of three people who have fallen victim to a scam.

"He received a call about 9:30 p.m. from a man who identified himself as a Sgt. Benson and gave his badge number to make it sound real legit," said Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver.

Weaver said the caller claimed to be from the Newton County Detention Center and the officer took the call thinking it could be related to his job.  When another person who took the phone claimed they had the wrong number, Sheriff Weaver said the alleged sergeant came back on the line and apologized for calling the wrong number and offers to help.

"You can call my dispatcher and they will remove that $10 service charge so he takes down the telephone number and they give it to him as *72," said Weaver.

Weaver said this is the scam. 

"That *72 is forwarding all calls to that number," said Weaver.

The caller now has your phone number to use as their own.

"That could go on for as long as a month and you not even be aware of it until you get this humongous bill at the end of the month," said Weaver.

It's the type of scam any of us could easily fall for.

"You're thinking 'well, it could be some family member or whatever that needs my help'," said Weaver.

So far all three people who have come forward have had the same type of call.  While the number of reports they have is low, many more victims could be out there who don't know they've been scammed.

"If they receive a call anything similar to this just don't return the call," said Weaver.

Weaver said they aren't sure who is doing this.  The caller could be anywhere targeting a much wider range than just Sharp County.  He said he would not be surprised if the calls are starting from a jail somewhere because it would allow many inmates to make many calls they would not normally be able to do.

Phone company Centurylink has released a statement saying they are aware of the scam and that many of their customers have fallen victim to it.  They say the call forwarding can be cancelled by pressing star 73 or 72 and the pound sign.

Here is the release from Centurylink:

Monette, Ark.…After a couple of quiet months, CenturyLink is once again receiving many calls from customers inquiring about the *72 call forwarding feature. Recent repair ticket patterns indicate a high use of *72, the calling feature that forwards incoming calls to a number specified by the customer.

Locally, we have received calls related to recent phone calls from prisons. Inmates randomly call numbers in our serving area. When a customer answers, they ask the unsuspecting person if they could please help them reach a loved one. The caller asks the customer to just dial *72 and a particular phone number for them. When a customer presses *72 and dials a phone number, they forward their phone number to that phone number. The phone number is, many times, a long distance phone number, and the customer incurs these long distance charges on his/her phone bill. Each time the person at the prison wants to reach that phone number, they call our customer's local phone number that has been call forwarded to the long distance number they wish to reach. Our customer is billed the long distance charges. Similarly, every time anyone calls the customer, they are forwarded to the long distance phone number. The customer pays for all these calls, many times long distance calls, until the call forwarding feature is deactivated.

In other areas, some CenturyLink customers have received a call with an automated message advising them of an injury or death to a family member, and asking them to dial a long distance phone number that begins with *72.  By dialing *72 and the phone number, the customer activates the call-forwarding feature on their line. This has resulted in long distance charges on the bill.

The operation of the call forwarding feature is the same regardless of whether the customer is a monthly subscriber or activates it on a per-use basis. Call forwarding can be deactivated by pressing *73 to clear the phone line. Customers should also know that the call forwarding feature can also be activated by simply pressing 72#.

Skip Layne, area operations manager, says, "We strongly encourage our customers to exercise extreme caution when accepting collect calls, forwarding calls, and pressing * and numbers. We suggest customers refer to the CenturyLink Directory Residential Service Calling Features and Services. This page fully explains the features and how they can be activated or deactivated."

CenturyLink would like to remind customers to know who they are talking to before they release personal information and to not perform any functions unfamiliar to them on either their phone or Internet line.

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