June 19, 2018
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Phone scam legend has a shred of truth

By Russ Van Arsdale Executive director Northeast Contact, Special to the BDN

An e-mail passed along to Northeast CONTACT last week pointed out what appeared to be a rather nasty way to have you pick up the tab for someone else’s long-distance phone calls.

The writer was from a Bangor-area business and had received a suspicious phone call. The caller represented himself as a technician from AT&T, saying he was checking out the business’s phone lines. To complete the test, he asked the person answering to press 9, zero and the pound sign and hang up.

The writer refused, having heard that this was a scam. The writer said such a process would allow long-distance calls to be made on, and charged to, the business’s phone. In fact, that is only partly true.

And some version of the e-mail that alerted us to the scam likely was in circulation for at least 10 years.

The ploy appears to work if the phone system employs private branch exchanges or PBXs. The usual process in such systems is to dial 9 to get an outside line; then the caller can dial whatever long-distance number is desired.

In a number of articles posted on the Internet, writers say the 9-0-# scam works ONLY on PBX systems. It’s not a threat to your home telephone or cellular phone despite claims made in e-mails such as the one referred to us. It turned out to fall into the class known as “urban legends.”

This particular urban legend apparently has been around for a decade or more. You can check out a written story by putting a quote from it into your favorite search engine. If it’s a widely circulated myth, you may find that it, too, is several years old; that’s probably a tip-off that it’s a hoax.

These things come in all stripes from silly (did you know that the name Evian was chosen for a brand of bottled water because it’s “naive” spelled backwards?) to sinister (we won’t help perpetuate examples of these).

The consumer alert variety keep making the rounds when recipients do as the e-mails instruct and forward the half-truths to everyone in their electronic address books. The result, as we’ve seen, is urban myths that live for years.

This practice is probably harmless in a majority of cases; it may even do some good by publicizing scams. One downside may be the inclusion of a virus, Trojan horse or other malicious code in e-mails by hackers; helping to spread such malware can cause all kinds of problems.

The persistence of urban legends should remind us not to click on links or attachments from unknown sources. Doing so can cause serious harm to your computer and allow access to your personal and financial information.

To protect yourself, keep your anti-virus software up to date, don’t click on links if you’re suspicious of the source, and don’t open attachments from unsolicited or unknown sources. For more on urban legends, you may want to read an article in the April edition of Reader’s Digest about a couple named the Mikkelsons, who track urban myths (www.snopes.com).

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail contacexdir@live.com.

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