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Authorities warn consumers about telephone scam run from L.A. County jails

February 26, 2011 |  5:38 pm

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is warning the public of a telephone scam being run out of county jail facilities by inmates.

The scam allows inmates to charge collect calls to unsuspecting consumers through the use of call forwarding, according to Deputy Robert Boese, and involves the use of the *72 function on telephones.

Here's how the ruse works: A person receives a telephone call from a person claiming to work for a public safety agency or hospital. The caller will claim that a relative of the recipient has been jailed or hurt in an accident, and then instructs him or her to call a telephone number that starts with the prefix *72 for more information.

The prefix activates the victim's call forwarding feature (if he or she is a subscriber). The victim's incoming calls are then forwarded to the telephone number that was provided by the scammer -- usually the number for a friend or relative of the inmate.

 "So if I'm an inmate, all I have to do is make a collect call to your number, which is forwarded to the other number," Boese said. "The person on the other line accepts the collect call and the fee goes to your phone bill."

The Sheriff's Department discovered the scam when deputies began receiving an increasing number of phone calls from people complaining of calls from the jail that appeared on their phone bills, authorities said.

The Sheriff's Department and the California Public Utilities Commission say the scam is not confined to L.A. County jails. They say con artists on the outside are also cheating telephone service subscribers.

Consumers can turn off the call forwarding feature by dialing prefix *73. Authorities also suggest that people call their phone companies and ask if they have call forwarding features.

People who have been victims of the scam are asked to report it to the California Public Utilities Commission's consumer hotline at (800) 649-7570.

-- Ruben Vives