Dial 9 Scam - BBB - Scam Alert - February 2007

By Mayo McDonough

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Over the past several weeks, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has received an influx of calls from consumers concerned they are being ripped off during a suspicious phone call.

When residents pick up their home telephone, an automated voice states they have won a vacation, and to receive this prize they must dial "9" on their home phones.

Consumers have heard that by pressing "9," they will be charged an exorbitant long distance fee. While it appears this call is a scam, the idea that dialing "9" will result in a long distance charge is an urban legend. To date, the BBB has not received evidence from any residential consumer of a long distance charge on their bill after dialing "9" during such a phone call.

The BBB contacted Telus to further inquire about this scam. Telus said, "residential customers are not at risk from this scam and should simply hang up their phone, if they receive such a call. However, business customers with a commercial switchboard requiring employees to dial "9" to gain an outside line are at risk. Should a scam artist convince an employee to dial "9," the scam artist may gain access to an outside line and call overseas at the business's expense."

The real threat of a resident dialing "9" in attempt to claim a vacation is that they may be connected to a live operator or scam artist determined to steal personal or financial information.

Using convincing tactics, con artists prey on a person's dream of a low-cost or no-cost tropical vacation. Scammers often claim they need personal information, such as name, address, birthdate and social insurance number to set up the trip. Consumers are often promised an itinerary and plane ticket will be mailed in the coming week. Some scammers even go as far as to require a credit card number for trip confirmation or to cover taxes. Unknowingly, consumers give up their personal information in hopes of a dream vacation that never turns into reality.

But not all vacation prize offerings are a scam, per se. Many businesses offer vacation prize packages as part of a marketing manoeuvre. Unscrupulous time-share operators are often known for using the promise of a free vacation to lure unsuspecting consumers into lengthy, high-pressure sales meetings.

Many reputable time-share operators may also offer reduced rate vacations to encourage consumers to visit their facilities. The key to accepting a vacation prize is to fully understand what is being "won." Often, the promise of a free, all-inclusive vacation comes with additional charges and many times consumers must meet specific requirements (i.e. attend a sales seminar, purchase their own insurance, travel during specific times, etc.) in order to qualify for the free vacation.

To protect yourself from becoming a victim of unsolicited prize offerings consider the following:

1) If you don't clearly remember entering a prize draw with a reputable company, then assume the prize offer is either part of a scam or a marketing ploy.

2) If it sounds too-good-to-be-true, it is! If you receive a high-pressure vacation promo phone call, hang up!

3) Don't fall victim to high-pressure sales tactics. Take time to collect all the necessary information from the company, including their name, address and the contact person you are speaking with. Ask for details in writing about the offer before giving out personal information. Review the details with a travel agent to help confirm legitimacy.

4) Before accepting any offer, research the company. Check the company's Reliability Report with the BBB. Look up companies online locally at www.bbbvi.ca or internationally at www.bbbvi.org.

5) Some scammers use legitimate company names when trying to get personal information. If the offer is suspect, look up the company's contact information and call the company back directly to see if the offer is real (Compare the information you found with the information the caller provided. Is it different? If it is, this might be a red-flag that the offer is a scam!).

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