SCAM ALERT The Ninety Pound Telephone Scam

[Reprinted from the "Urban Legends Website" - In Vital Connections,
see News&Information~Computer Coaching~Resources~(Next 6)~Urban Legends]

Dateline: 02/18/98

Many thanks to Patrick Crispen, conductor of the esteemed Internet TourBus, for permission to reprint the following:

The Internet TourBus February 12,1998
According to our next urban legend:
On Saturday, 24 January 1998, Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans' Quarterdeck received a telephone call from an individual identifying himself as an AT&T Service Technician that was running a test on our telephone lines. He stated that to complete the test the QMOW should touch nine (9), zero (0), pound sign (#) and hang up. Luckily, the QMOW was suspicious and refused. Upon contacting the telephone company we were informed that by using 90# you end up giving the individual that called you access to your telephone line and allows them to place a long distance telephone call, with the charge appearing on your telephone [bill]. We were further informed that this scam has been originating from many of the local jails/prisons. Please 'pass the word.'"

Well, your fearless bus driver spent most of Tuesday on the phone with folks from both Force 3 (the company that originally reported this story) and AT&T (the long distance telephone company whose logo looks an awful lot like Darth Vader's Death Star). As shocking as this may sound, the "nine-zero-pound" story is true ... sort of.

What the warning letter floating around the Net doesn't say is that this scam only works on telephones where you have to dial 9 to get an outside line. Unless you have to dial 9 to get an outside line at home, this scam does not affect residential telephone users. Dialing "nine-zero-pound" on a residential phone will only give you a busy signal. That's it.

On some business phones, however, dialing "nine-zero-pound" may transfer a call to an outside operator and give the caller the opportunity to call anywhere in the world and charge it to your business' phone bill ... maybe. It all depends on how your business' telephone system is set up. If your company doesn't require you to dial 9 to get an outside line (for example, if you have a direct outside telephone line on your desk or if your company's phone system requires you to dial a number other than 9 to get an outside line) the "nine-zero-pound" scam does not affect you. Also, if your company's phone system is set up so that you cannot make a long distance call once you have accessed an outside line (a lot of companies now limit all outside lines to local calls only), the "nine-zero-pound" scam does not affect you either.

The "nine-zero-pound" story only affects those businesses that require you to dial 9 to get an outside line and then place no restrictions on who or where you can call once you get that outside line. And, just to be anal-retentive, let me say one more time that, unless you have to dial 9 to get an outside line at home, this scam does not affect residential telephone users. [It also probably doesn't affect non-US telephone users. This is especially true for British telephone users whose telephone system is so complex that NO ONE in the UK knows how to use BT's phones (although I am sure that BT users are currently dealing with some sort of "dial q-seven-pi-cromwell-eleventeen-tomato" scam)]. -- Patrick Crispen

Return to Text Only Scam Index

Return to Scam Index