Phone scammers are getting trickier than ever to avoid, a new column on . reveals. Once unsuspecting people pick up, thieves can make money off premium charges, or even . However, a quick glance could reveal whether the call means real business or not.
According to Joseph Steinberg, CEO of , certain area codes can tip off potential victims that something is amiss. In the past, criminals used to hide behind "900 numbers" that racked up high charges, but the public quickly caught on.
Then scammers tried a new approach. Many schemes soon featured the numbers 809, an international area code from the Caribbean that appeared to originate in the United States. As familiarity with that ruse also increased, crooks have since moved on to other islands that still fall under the +1 country code. "Criminals have been known to use caller IDs with the area code 473, which appears to be domestic, but is actually the area code for the island of Grenada," he .
According to , taking calls from any of those foreign countries can cost up to $5 a minute or more. The bot or person behind it can also persuade listeners to spend money on sketchy timeshares or cruises. In , people pretend they need help or money because they're in danger.
Steinberg advises never returning a missed call from an unknown number — if it's for real, the person can send a text or leave a voicemail. "Remember that it's unlikely that someone you do not know — who is in distress at a location with which you are not familiar — would dial a random number in another country and ask you to help them," he says. "They would call the police."
To protect your wallet, watch out for 473, 809 and 900 numbers. It also doesn't hurt to check missed calls against the international area codes that start with +1:
International Area Codes With a +1 Country Code
242 — Bahamas
246 — Barbados
268 — Antigua
284 — British Virgin Islands
345 — Cayman Islands
441 — Bermuda
473 — Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
649 — Turks and Caicos
664 — Montserrat
721 — Sint Maarten
758 — St. Lucia
767 — Dominica
784 — St. Vincent and Grenadines
809, 829 and 849 — Dominican Republic
868 — Trinidad and Tobago
869 — St. Kitts and Nevis
876 — Jamaica