Scammers Pretend to be Prison Inmates Making Collect Calls

Scammers Pretend to be Prison Inmates Making Collect Calls
Image: NCCC
September 11, 2015

There's almost a sense of irony when a scammer calls pretending to be an incarcerated criminal.

Consumer Affairs is reporting that its own contributors have been targeted with prison scams in which scammers pretend to be an incarcerated friend or relative to con victims into footing the bill for collect calls or making calls to expensive international numbers.

Reporter Jennifer Abel writes that over the Labor Day weekend she got three almost incoherent robocalls from Manassas Correctional Facility – which, by the way, doesn't exist. The robocall asked Abel to press one if she'd like to continue the call in English. She didn't.

Had she, it's likely that she would have been connected to one of those high-priced premium lines used in the one-ring phone scam or her number would have been high jacked giving the scammer the ability to make expensive calls.

While consumers can somewhat protect themselves from becoming a victim, prison scams can be especially tricky. Calling collect is common practice for prisoners so receiving one isn't out of the ordinary. If you're sure you don't know anyone behind bars, then you can hang up with a clear conscious. But, what if you do? Abel writes that there's no clear cut way to avoid this scam without potentially hanging up on someone you know and care about.

She writes,

Genuine collect calls from prison usually appear as robocalls inviting you to press various buttons if you agree to accept the charges — just as the scam versions do. That's why there's no simple, easy, all-purpose rule to avoid being tricked by scam versions of the same calls: if it's a scammer calling you, you dare not press any buttons on the phone keypad — but if it's a real loved one calling, then you have to.

Scammers commonly play on a person's fears of hanging up on a loved one in need of help. It's why the grandparent scheme is so successful.

Scammers call elderly individuals pretending to be their grandchild who has been arrested, often overseas, and needs bail money. Instead of being connected to expensive phone numbers or having their number taken over, victims of this scam are often sent out to buy gift cards or reloadable debit cards, or deposit money into an account at a local bank.

The difference is, though, while it might be possible for a grandparent to have a loved one get into some trouble, the grandparent can verify the call with other family members. The numbers provided by the scammer can usually be verified as well. This isn't the case with victims of the prison scam who can't call back their loved one using a number found on an official website.

Those who have incarcerated loved ones should use caution if they receive one of these calls. Others can prevent becoming a victim by not answering numbers that aren't familiar and should never call back a number that didn't leave a voicemail.

No matter what kind of robocall you receive, never press any buttons, even if it the call says doing so will remove you from their list. Pressing any button, or interacting with a live person, will confirm to the scammer that it's a good number and you'll likely receive more calls.

Report any phone scams or robocalls to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.

Complaints can also be submitted to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which is co-sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).