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Don't Be Conned by the Rampant 72# Scam of Prison Inmates -- It Could Cost You Time, $$ and Stress!

Fifteen-year-old Whitney Lott thought she was "helping someone out" when she agreed to forward a call for a stranger on the phone. The stranger, according to a CBS News report, turned out to be an inmate from Dallas County Jail. He told the girl that he had called her accidentally and, since he only got one phone call, asked if she could forward the call to his mother -- by dialing *72.

Scam 72

Using the 72# scam, con artists can con you out of thousands of dollars while you're in your own home.

The innocent move ended up costing Lott's parents $160, but it could have cost them hundreds, or even thousands, more.

Pressing *72 or 72# activates a call forwarding feature on phones. Every call made to your number from then on will be forwarded to a pay phone or other involved third party. However, you are responsible for the charges incurred because the calls are being forwarded from your number.

This scam has been going on around the country and involves not only inmates but also everyday con artists. According to the CBS News report, "The problem is rampant. In Florida, at least two inmates racked up more than $50,000 worth of collect calls to more than a hundred families."

How the *72 Scam Works

As described by AT&T, the *72 scam works like this:

"Star-7-2 is a custom feature for call forwarding. When the customer dials *72 followed by a telephone number, it activates the call forwarding feature causing all your incoming calls to ring at another number.

At the end of the other line -- whether calls have been forwarded to a landline, a cell phone or a payphone -- the original caller's partner-in-crime is able to accept all collect and third-party calls, while telling your own legitimate callers that they have the wrong number. You get billed for all calls made because your number is the one from which they are forwarded."

Scammers use the following scenarios most often as they try to play to the sympathies of their victim:

  • An inmate calling and saying he or she needs you to call their mother for them (they called you "accidentally" and say they can't make another call).

  • An inmate calling and saying he was arrested for a minor traffic ticket and needs to call a relative to pick up his children from the police station (again, calling you "accidentally).

  • Someone calling and pretending to be a phone-company technician who needs to check your phone line for a problem. In order to receive "remote access," they ask the victim to input a code of *72 or 72#.

  • A person calling and impersonating a police officer, telling the victim that a close friend has been injured in an auto accident. In order to find out more information, the con artist says, the victim must call another officer by pressing *72 followed by another phone number.

  • A person calling from a payphone and saying they don't have the additional change needed to make an emergency call, then asking you to forward their call.

  • "Usually, these con artists are not targeting specific people; they're just hoping to find a sympathetic ear," said Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe, who has issued a consumer alert in his state to warn the public about this increasingly common scam.

"However, if they can trick you into forwarding your phone to another number, they can repeatedly make calls that will be charged to your phone," he said.

Scam 72

If a stranger calls and asks you to input any type of unfamiliar code into your phone, simply hang up.

What to Do if You Think You've Been Scammed

First and foremost, if anyone calls you asking you to input a strange code into your phone, simply hang up. Be sure to let your children know to do this as well.

In the call-forwarding scam, the code can be in the following formats:

  • *72

  • 72#

  • 90# (for certain small business phone systems)

However, be wary of any code that a stranger asks you to input. One of the clever aspects of this scam is that the victim does not know it has happened until it is too late and the charges appear on their phone bill.

If you think you may have fallen victim to the call-forwarding scam, pressing *73 or 73# (depending on your service provider) will turn off the call-forwarding feature. You may also want to alert your local law enforcement agency of the scam.

Further, says Beebe, "Keep a close eye on your phone bill, and contact your phone-service provider if you think there are calls on your account that you did not place."

Recommended Reading

The Top Seven Signs that Someone is Lying to You

Don't Get Caught by Phishing Scams on the Internet!


CBS News: Jailhouse Jingles Can Cost You $$

72# Call Forward Scam Spreading Call Forwarding Scam

Carolina Newswire: BellSouth Consumer Advisory

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