Telephone scams & UL hoaxes

James_H

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#1
as reported in the london TIMES
August 17, 2002

Undetected urban legend spread by police force
By David Rowan



POOR Paul Toseland – one minute he was just another Northamptonshire community police officer, the next, he was a notorious peddler of junk e-mail.
All PC Toseland wanted to do was warn local businesses of a new telephone scam that could potentially cost them “a lot of money”.

So in his capacity as Corby Business Anti-Crime Network Administrator, PC Toseland thoughtfully sent a few contacts an e-mail, and unwittingly propagated the summer’s wildest urban legend.

Indispensable as e-mail has become in our daily communications, it has also proved the most effective medium for modern myths.

For PC Toseland, the trouble began with the request that anyone reading his warning, about a woman pretending to be in distress so that she could call her own premium-rate phone line, should “please pass it on to friends and colleagues”.

By this weekend, the e-mail had been received by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people across Britain, to the growing embarrassment of Northamptonshire Police. For despite PC Toseland’s claim that the scam in question had been reported “five times in the last couple of weeks”, his superiors this week had to accept the uncomfortable truth.

They said: “Information which is being circulated electronically to businesses by the force is not correct.”

The e-mail, headed “Message from Northamptonshire Police”, gives a warning of a woman who has been calling on homes claiming that her car has broken down and asking to call her husband. Her fictitious five-minute conversation costs the bill-payer £250.

The warning is spoilt by only one detail: according to ICSTIS, the body that regulates premium-rate phone lines, the highest tariff charged in Britain is £1.50 a minute, rather than £50.

The regulator told local trading standards officers that no one had been able to produce a phone bill to support the story. But the damage was done.

Rob Dwight, media officer for the regulator, said: “For the best part of three months, we’ve been getting dozens of calls a day about it. It’s just not true. You simply can’t set that tariff in this country.”

Students of urban legends would have seen the warning signs: the lack of detail about the victims, little description for the woman, the combination of breathless anecdote and official police report.

Since e-mail replaced the chain letter as the preferred means of spreading popular myth, it has spread everything from false virus alerts to dubious promises of Nigerian riches. But when Northamptonshire Police began receiving inquiries on June 17, the force initially issued a statement insisting “to the best of our knowledge it is not an urban legend as some people have been suggesting”.

Last week it had to accept the inevitable. A spokeswoman admitted that it was not true. “We do want this to go to bed now. Unfortunately the e-mail was sent out in good faith and the facts weren’t checked out at the start.”

PC Toseland was unavailable for comment.

At least he was not first to tell the story: The Times has traced the myth back to early May, when it began circulating among local Neighbourhood Watch groups.

The National Neighbourhood Watch Association, to its credit, decided not to forward the warning. Martin Burrekoven-Kalve, the association’s communications director, said: “You feel it in your waters that something’s not right, and this seemed a bit far-fetched. It doesn’t take an awful lot of research to find out it’s not true.”

But in Northamptonshire, the local Chamber of Commerce did pass on the warning in its e-mail bulletin, in part encouraged by an employee’s belief that she had almost fallen victim herself.

The woman had apparently become suspicious after receiving a knock on her door at home to find a stranger asking to make an emergency call on a mobile phone. The householder refused, although when The Times attempted to contact the intended victim, she proved unavailable.

So did the Chamber of Commerce now believe that the scam PC Toseland had described was genuine? “It’s difficult, isn’t it?” a spokeswoman replied after a pause. “I just don’t know.”

Ingenious scam that never was

Message from Northamptonshire Police: below are details of a scam currently going the rounds. The police have requested that as many people are alerted as possible. Unfortunately it is a genuine scam.
Police Report: the reason this is working so well is it plays on your goodwill! Picture the scene. You are sitting at home and there is a knock at the door. On answering it, you are confronted by a respectable looking woman in a suit, who is slightly distressed. She explains that her car has broken down further down the road and she needs to contact her husband to come to her aid. Is it possible to use your phone to call him? You allow her to use the phone, but being the suspicious type you stand with her as she makes the call. She dials the number, and asks to be put through to Mr Smith/Brown/Stevens (whatever). She holds the line for about 30 seconds. She continues, “In that case can you ask him to leave the meeting for a minute, I need to speak to him quite urgently.”

She apologises again and explains they are getting him out of a meeting.

A couple of minutes go by and she starts to speak to her husband. She explains the situation to him, tells him what has happened to the car, is annoyed because she now cannot get to her meeting, and asks what she should do now. She listens for a few seconds and then says, “Well as soon as the meeting finishes, can you come to Cardiff Road/Leicester Road/Surrey Street (whatever), where the car has broken down.”

Another few seconds go by. “OK, I’ll see you in about 20 minutes then.”

She put the phone down, and thanks you ever so much for your kind assistance, even offering you a pound for your trouble, but of course you decline, it is no trouble.

She leaves and everything is fine. Or is it? The day or week before knocking on your door, she set up her own premium-rate line with a telephone company at the cost of about £150, and she has dictated that calls to that number should be charged at £50 per minute. She has dialled that number. The conversation she has had with her “husband” is entirely fictitious; there is a pre-recorded voice message on the other end to give you the impression she is talking to someone. She has been on the phone for about five minutes; that call just cost you £250, the majority of which goes into her pocket, and the first you know about it is when you get your bill a month later.

To rub a bit of salt into the wound, she has not even committed a criminal offence. You have given her permission to use your phone. In Luton this has been reported five times in the last couple of weeks.

Would anyone reading this please pass it on to friends and colleagues et cetera? Otherwise it could cost someone a lot of money.

PC Paul Toseland, Corby Business Anti-Crime Network Administrator
 
A

Anonymous

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#2
This reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago. I was working at a nuclear site, which has its own police force to guard it, and one day we received an email that was addressed to all on-site employees. It was a warning, originating from the police no less, about a certain peril of foreign travel.
The email basically told the story of the organ thieves - how unwary travellers would get drugged by an attracive woman, blah blah blah, you know the rest.
The point is, this was circulated by the police (before I had heard of this UL) which must have done wonders in aiding the propagation of the story.
 
A

Anonymous

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#3
Maybe there are slow crime days and the police just don't have enough to keep them busy.
 

stu neville

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#4
Maybe you can't be charged £50 per min for a UK based number: there are doubtless ones abroad which can, however...

Just a thought!

Mind you, if I were standing next to someone making a phone call on my phone, I think I'd notice someone dialling 0898 or whatever - standard codes can't attract anything but standard geographical charges, IIRC.
 

JamesWhitehead

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#5
Salford Schools Information Service sent around a fax to schools
warning them about the evil Smiley Cult ie Thugs who put razor
blades in childrens' mouths them slapped them on the cheeks to
cut open their faces.

Suspecting an UL, I posted it on this message board and found it
was an old chestnut, elsewhere known as a "Chelsea Smile" etc.

However, given the blame which descends on agencies when they
fail to pass on information, I can understand why they are sometimes
over-credulous about dangers. No real excuse for the Police, though!
:rolleyes:
 

GNC

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#6
Telphones Hoaxes

I've just been emailed this:

We have been advised of a telephone fraud currently in operation (this applies to home and/or work telephones - land lines and mobiles):

If you do receive one of these calls, upon answering the telephone, you will hear a recorded message congratulating you on winning an all expenses trip to an exotic location. You will then be asked to press 9 to hear further details. If you press 9 you will be connected to a premium rate line that costs approximately £20 per minute. Even if you disconnect immediately, it will remain connected for a minimum of 5 minutes, costing around £100. The final part of the call involves you being asked to key your postcode and house number (which has other serious consequences). After a further 2 minutes you will receive a message informing you that you are not one of the lucky winners. The total bill will be £260.

Since the calls are originating from outside the UK, BT and other telephone companies are left relatively powerless to act. The only safe solution is to HANG UP before the message prompts you to press 9; even safer is to HANG UP on any unsolicited 'free offer' call. This appears to be a variation on a theme, warnings have been sent previously regarding calls made by individuals claiming to be engineers conducting a test on the line and asking for 9, 0# and text messages similar to the routine described above.

DO NOT DIAL 9 (OR 9,0# OR 0,9#) FOR ANYONE! BT has been contacted and confirmed the details as being true.

There is another scam operating on Mobile Phones.

A Missed Call comes up. The number is 0709 020 3840. The last four numbers may vary but certainly the first four numbers will remain the same. If you call this number back, you will be charged £50 per minute. People have complained about their phone bills, once they have realised the cost of the call but apparently this is completely legal. So beware, do not call back numbers beginning with 0709.

Please pass this information on to your family and friends.


[Me again] It sounds like a typical hoax, but does anyone here have any more details?
 

Electric_Monk

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#7
Pressing 9 shouldn't do anything, once you're connected to the other end all it'd do is send the TouchTone(tm) tone for number 9 to the other end, where it could drive a menu system or such if you've ever tried to call any large company's customer support. The significance they place on doing such an irrelevant action, combined with the fact that I don't think it'd be very easy to reverse charge a call without telling the person you're calling it's happening first (particularly internationally) leads me to believe it's nonsense. I often wonder who starts these ludicrous rumours :)

The mobile phone one sounds a bit more reasonable in that some unscrupulous individual could make you phone a number to extract your cash, which I recall happened with SMS messages implying some secret admirer had put your phone number in, and you needed to send one back to find out who it was (but you never did, and the text cost a lot of money). I think it also had you send your friend's numbers so they'd be next on the scheme's list of people to torment. I don't think there's any tariff that could cost you £50 though ;)
 
A

Anonymous

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#8
It's on Snopes somewhere. Apparently, technically, it can work, but only if you have to dial 9 for an outside line, so work switchboards kind of thing.

We had it sent out at work a few weeks ago, along with another 'warning' about a fictitious email virus. So I complained. :p I'm getting rather fed up of getting hoax warning messages at work, when all it takes is 5 minutes of less of searching through Snopes to find whether it's real or not. :evil:

They sent one out just before Christmas a few years ago, telling women to beware people approaching you in car parks and asking you to sniff perfume, which then knocked you out while they robbed you. It really scared one woman at work, and no matter what I showed her, she wouldn't believe that it just isn't true. She maintained that the Management would not have sent it out if it wasn't true.

Of course, the Management are so incompetent, they would do just that.
 

Stormkhan

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#9
Let's face it - Management just scan through circulars for porn or swearing then pass them on, without bothering to use their dust-covered little brains and actually check their facts.
 

Rrose_Selavy

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#10

escargot

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#11
Yup, a uni colleague swears blind that a FOAF was THE woman who DEFINITELY found a man hiding in her car ready to kill her.

It 'happened' at the Trafford Centre and wasn't on the news because 'they' covered it up as it was bad for business. Yeah. :lol:
 

Eponastill

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#12
On the subject of those fantastically annoying recorded messages - well I'd be amazed if anyone could bear to listen the end of one (scratchy half audible american accents) - and what's really annoying about them is the way you can't hang up: if you pick up the phone again the beggars are still there until the message has finished.

the mysterious phone number - (I'm kind of ashamed to say) I saw a similar thing on the tv programme The Bill a couple of weeks ago. The story was that a distressed lady would run up to men in the street saying she'd been attacked and begging to borrow their phones. Then she'd phone her especially set-up three trillion quid a minute phone line and make some money in the short time it took to pretend to call home. I didn't think it was terribly convincing at the time. Don't worry though, the police in the programme caught her. 'of course BTcan't do anything about it' they said.. which would probably be another lie, supposing the scam exists in the first place.
 

GNC

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#13
Thanks everyone, sounds like it was a load of rubbish after all.
 

Mal_Adjusted

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#14
Watchdog groans as email hoax returns to life

Greets

there's a variety of what be called urban legends which are e-mail hoaxes etc. (or maybe this belongs in hoaxes?)

here's what appears to be the latest one:

Watchdog groans as email hoax returns to life
By Tim Richardson
Published Monday 20th December 2004 16:58 GMT

The premium rate telephone watchdog - ICSTIS - is warning punters not to fall for an email hoax that has been doing the rounds for more than two years.

The email seems genuine enough since it is from PC Paul Toseland, Corby Business Anti-Crime Network Administrator, and warns that that users could get stung for £250 from a woman posing as someone whose car has broken down.
Click Here

The gist of the apparent scam contained in the email is simple. There's a knock on the door. "My car's broken down, can I use your phone?" says the smartly-dressed woman. She then uses the phone and pretends to ring her husband, but in reality rings a premium rate phone line, set up at £50 per minute. When she's finished, she even offers £1 to cover the cost of the call. The first you know you've been ripped off is when the phone bill comes in.

Of course, this is all nonsense. Yes, cars do break down and people do sometimes knock on doors and ask to use a phone. But there are no £50 a minute phone services in the UK. The most anyone can be charged for premium rate services in £1.50 a minute.

Two years ago when this email first did the rounds Northamptonshire police was forced to issue a statement which read: "We can confirm information circulated electronically to businesses by the Force regarding a telephone fraud, is now believed to be an urban legend."

Now, the email has surfaced once again and has been picked up and reported by various media organisations, including The Scotsman (The story was on its website this morning, but appears now to have been removed.) A spokeswoman for ICSTIS told The Register that the regulator would be writing to all police forces in the UK warning them to be on their guard against such email hoaxes.

She said that such reports were "not very helpful" and "made it harder [for the regulator] to debunk these myths".

Earlier this month ICSTIS was forced to issue yet another caution over another email warning of high phone bills. ICSTIS had received dozens of calls from people concerned that they could be ripped off if they fall for the con.

The emails claimed people could be hit with a bill for £260 if they "press 9" and listen to a recorded message offering them a free all-expenses paid holiday. Another apparent scam relates to people phoning a "missed call" number beginning 0709. Anyone calling the number will be charged £50 a minute, warns the hoax email.

However, ICSTIS says this is all utter tosh. Yes, some people do get these dodgy marketing calls but they cannot be billed £50 a minute. Which is why the regulator has urged anyone who receives one of these emails to bin it and not to pass it on. ®
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/12/20/icstis_phone_hoax/

mal
 

Stormkhan

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#15
People like to believe that being nice, helpful or kindly leaves them open to abuse and crime. That way, they have an excuse for being ignorant, miserable, self-obsessed and scared.

While it is true that there are criminals out there willing to exploit the helpful people in this world, I think it's less common than the usual sources of populist fear! As long as we uses a bit of common sense and forsight, this sort of UL nonsense can be minimised.

A question which should be asked from the gullible people who 'buy in' to this UL - The 'premium rate' call can be traced so why haven't OFTEL been inundated by complaints against the company who's benefitting from this scam?
 

Eponastill

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#16
I expect you've now noticed this is also covered below in the (link deleted as threads now merged - stu) thread. Nice to hear the 'proof' about the costs.
 

liveinabin

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#17
Please excuse me if I can't type as I am drunk.

I heard also about a recorded phone message that starts of by saying that it is Santa and then rips you off for a f**ktonne of money. We had that one on the voice mail.

I did hear about the 'my cars broken down' one in the Independent newspaper. It was a editorial written in the first person. With this one though the woman said that she had locked herself out and that she lived at number 100 (or whatever). The writer thought she was dodgy as she pointed to the wrong direction when she said the number.

Of course when someone calls you up then the call is not disconected until they put the phone down
 

ratbiter

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#18
Some eejit forwarded the "press 9 ad get bankrupted" email to our entire organisation (circa 1500 staff). That was annoying enough in itself, but 2 things made it worse: 1. the email originated from someone in the financial crime unit of the second largest police force in Britain; 2. the "Departmental Security Officer" then used it is an opportunity to email everyone about this and other factually dubious frauds.

Too shy to point out the error of their ways though.
 
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