Citizens Tricked Into Paying For Inmates’ Calls

pay-phone-prison-morguefile-102807.jpg

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)— One Park Forest resident narrowly avoided falling victim to a phone scam last week that could have left him paying for someone else’s calls.  Many others, however, have fallen for the “*72 Scam,” and should be wary when the caller ID reads "Cook County Jail."

Police were dispatched to the 100 block of Iroquois to investigate a report of the theft of phone services.  Upon arrival, officers spoke to a resident who explained that he had received a phone call and heard a Spanish automated operator service, so he hung up.  He then stated that his phone rang a second time and he answered it.  This time he heard an automated operator tell him that there was a medical emergency involving a loved one and advised him to dial “0” to speak with an operator.  He did as instructed, at which time he spoke to an unknown subject who advised him to dial *72, and then (773) 457-[number deleted] in order to speak with his “Lieutenant,” according to the report.

The resident called the number he was given, received a busy signal and hung up.  The resident received a third phone call, and the same caller stated that he was trying to verify if the resident had reached “the Lieutenant.”  The resident informed the caller that he did not get through.  After hanging up with the caller, the resident felt something was suspicious about the call. He checked his caller ID and discovered that all three calls originated from the Cook County Jail.

Officers conducted further investigation, which revealed a phone service fraud committed by prison inmates attempting to make calls from prison payphones.  Inmates would call resident’s phone and instruct the resident to dial *72, then the provided phone number.  Once the resident dials *72, they activate a vacation forwarding service which most phone companies provide, allowing that inmate to use the resident’s phone line to make forwarded calls.  The resident would be billed for the utilization of their phone number without their permission. 

Officers notified the resident of the scam and provided him with instructions on how to deactivate the forwarding service by dialing *73.  Officers also provided the resident with an SBC 800 number, 1-800-984-8800, which allowed him to block all calls from the Cook County Jail.

When dialing this number, there is an automated system asking first if the caller has a question pertaining to “blocked or unblocked calls from an inmate facility, press 1 now.”  Concerned residents should call the number between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart published a warning about this scam on the County Sheriff’s Office web site in April, but the problem persists.  Dart warns, “Anyone receiving a collect call from Cook County Jail is cautioned not to accept the call unless they are sure someone they know is trying to contact them.  If a citizen does accept a call and the inmate attempts to get personal information or urges you to call another phone number, you should hang up immediately and report the incident to the authorities."

Dart’s statement continues on the site:

According to investigators, the inmates conducting the scam call random numbers collect and pose as police officers stationed at the jail. They then tell the individual who answers the telephone that a member of their family has been in an accident and in order to get more information the victim must dial a series of numbers for more details. If the victim calls the number as instructed, they will transfer their telephone number to a call-forwarding service, which enables the inmate to charge the victim’s phone account with future collect calls.

Nearly all inmates at Cook County Jail are held on a pretrial basis and have not yet been convicted of a crime. Because of their pretrial status, the inmates are legally permitted to make collect telephone calls.

Park Forest police contacted the Cook County Jail regarding this incident and were told to contact the Cook County Investigations Division to advise them of the incident.