Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, October 29, 2001



E-mail on 90# phone scam
holds grains of truth

By Burl Burlingame

Sooner or later, everyone will get this email, or one similar:

"I received a telephone call last evening from an individual identifying himself as a telephone-service technician who was conducting a test on telephone lines. He said that to complete the test I should touch nine, zero, the pound sign, and then hang up.

"Luckily, I was suspicious and refused. Upon contacting the telephone company, I was informed that by pushing 90#, you give the requesting individual full access to your telephone line, which enables them to place long-distance calls billed to your home phone number ..."

Is this for real?

Sort of. The "90# scam" appears on any number of urban-legend Web sites, but they dolefully note that it is all-too-true.

But there's a major catch. This scam will ONLY work on government, business office or PBX (private branch exchange) phone systems, not on your home phone, unless you live at the office like we do. And it's hard enough getting a telephone-repair person on the line in the first place, much less having them call YOU out of the blue.

All the major telephone companies have Web pages devoted to phone scams, and all the ones we checked -- Verizon, AT&T, Bell, Southwestern -- had a separate page devoted to the 90# hustle, as well as other delightful scams such as "slamming" and "cramming."

It's a good idea to check these pages periodically. And also to look carefully at weird long-distance charges on your phone bill.

And remember to immediately hang up on any phone call that begins with a prerecorded voice saying "Please hold for an important call ..."

Curious about anything you've seen, heard, tasted or smelled? Write WatDat at Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana, Suite 7-210, Honolulu HI 96813, or e-mail us at

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