Scamming East Texans from behind bars

By Courtney Lane - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - This "7 on Your Side" investigates the so-called "inmate phone scam." The Better Business Bureau says a lot of low-risk facility inmates are tricking Texans out of hundreds possibly thousands of dollars. Cayla Washburn had a close call Saturday night.

"It was a collect call from the Harris County correctional facility," said Washburn.

She has family in Houston, so it really scared her.

"He said that a member of my family was in the Harris County Jail and they were trying to get word to me, and I needed to call this number immediately," she explained.

That number always starts with a sequence like * 72 or 72 #.

"What it does [is] it transfers all your incoming calls to another person," said Linda Bailey. "In the meantime, the person who is incarcerated is using your phone number to make long distance calls."

That's right. Dialing that sequence activates the call forwarding feature enabling scammers to rack up all kinds of charges at your expense. Another East Texan was billed more than $800 this weekend after falling for it. She filed a report with the Smith County sheriff's department who had this warning: "It is very uncommon for law enforcement agencies to call anyone to tell them that they have someone of their kin in jail," said Sheriff J.B. Smith. "We just don't do that."

Fortunately, Washburn realized she'd been scammed and quickly reported it to her phone company, but she wants to make sure they don't take advantage of others.

"If I had not have had family, if it had not have been like about 6:30 [or] 7 o'clock on Saturday night...all of that was just scary," said Washburn. "I know better than to dial the *725 but I wasn't thinking. All I was thinking about was someone needs help and it really frightened me."

So, no matter what these scammers tell you, no matter their story, don't dial * 72.

On certain phones, you can deactivate the call forwarding feature by dialing * 73.