The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is warning the public of a telephone scam being run from county jails by inmates.
In the scam, inmates charge collect calls to unsuspecting consumers through call forwarding, according to Deputy Robert Boese.
Here's how it works: A person receives a telephone call from a person claiming to work for a public safety agency or hospital. The caller will say that a relative of the recipient has been hurt in an accident or jailed, and then instruct him to call a phone number that starts with the prefix *72 for more information.
The prefix activates the victim's call-forwarding feature (if he is a subscriber). The victim's incoming calls are then forwarded to the phone 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 telephone 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 phone subscribers.
Consumers can turn off the call-forwarding feature by dialing the prefix *73. Authorities also suggest that people call their phone companies and ask if they have the call-forwarding feature.
People victimized by the scam are asked to report it to the PUC's consumer hotline at (800) 649-7570.