Steer Clear Of The Call Forwarding Scam – Don't Dial *72

Cook County prison inmates posing as Sheriffs are scamming St. Louis households with calls that start with a request to aid someone who has just been in an accident by calling a number that starts with *72. The prefix activates call forwarding, allowing all incoming calls to ring at an alternate number; the calls are then billed to the victim.

Police say the scam is not new, nor is it a local phenomenon. In 2005, the Arkansas attorney general issued a consumer alert addressing the call-forwarding con. And a few years ago, a group of inmates in Florida bilked residents of that state, making $50,000 in long-distance calls billed to their unsuspecting victims before they were caught, police said.

The scheme has many variations, authorities said. Sometimes the caller poses as a telephone company technician and claims to need access to check a telephone line. He or she then asks whoever answers to input a code that is supposedly designed to give the “technician” remote access to the line, police said.

Small business owners are susceptible to the same scam, except they must enter *90. If you think call forwarding has been activated on your line, turn it off by dialing *73.

Telephone scam in Lake Saint Louis [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
(AFP/Getty Images)


Edit Your Comment

  1. homerjay says:

    Who would ever think a phone number starts with a *?

  2. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    ‘a telephone company technician’ would NOT need YOU to do ANYTHING to ‘access your line.’

    Only * code you need is *67 (to turn off your broadcasting caller ID).

  3. MercuryPDX says:

    A while back, a female friend of mine would get calls from a guy she knew that was in prison. These would be announced by a pre-recorded voice saying where the call came from asking her to “press one” or some such to accept the charges. (I guess Cook County doesn’t use that system).

    When the calls started getting scary, I know the phone company offered some way to block the calls from going through if it was requested. Haven’t been lucky in a google search to verify if this is still the case, but if you’re concerned about a gullible family member call your phone company and ask if the offer prison blocking services.

  4. sly100100 says:

    Why would the sheriff need your help to call someone? People really need to use common sense.

  5. timmus says:

    I have no sympathy for people who let callers walk all over them.
    You don’t talk to telemarketers, you HANG UP.
    You don’t talk to crank callers, you HANG UP.
    You don’t talk to people making weird proposals, you HANG UP.
    People need to start realizing they own their own telephone and need not talk to anyone except friends and family.

  6. timmus says:

    And that goes for the sheriff, too.

  7. Buran says:

    @doctor_cos: If you do that you will find that many people, myself included, won’t take your call. That’s something telemarketers and scammers do, not normal people.

  8. Major-General says:

    @doctor_cos: Congratulations. If your caller ID is off, you go straight to the answering machine.

  9. @sly100100: So why do thousands of people continue to fall for phishing scams to this day? Common sense isn’t common.

  10. @timmus:

    that sherriff must’ve been really embarrassed when he found out he was the only victim to fall trap

  11. homerjay says:

    @Major-General: I use that as a positive! When I’m calling someone I don’t really want to talk to but need to give some information to, I’ll block callerID and 99% of the time I go right to the machine. Just like I wanted.

  12. humphrmi says:

    @homerjay: All my friends and family use e-mail, and I’m beginning to question my need for a telephone. If it weren’t for the kids and the need for 911, I’d probably drop my landline. One less attack vector for scammers.

  13. Don Roberto says:

    And in other news, scientists have just invented with a new-fangled invention for growing our food. They call it DIRT.

  14. Chongo says:

    This happened to me a couple months ago. It scared me so bad that I honestly almost cried. Heres how it went:

    I get this call marked PRISON on caller ID. I’m thinking to myself “Great, one of my idiot friends got wasted and got thrown in the tank or something”. I answer it and get this long automated messsage in spanish saying something about the legal requirements to report this call is coming from prison, etc. Finally, this guy picks up the phone and tells me he’s a sargent with the cook county police and that an unidentified female with my contact information has been injured in a car accident. Of course I start totally freaking out and demand to know who and everything else I could find out. He says he is only the dispatcher and does not know any details, only to call this number that starts with *72. He then gives me a whole bunch of other info like his badge number, etc.

    I get off the phone and my addrenylin is pumping beyond control. Part of me though was like “a *72 number? that dosn’t sound right” so I immedietly typed the number into google. the first hit was a bulletin from the Marengo County sherrifs office warning people not to fall for the scam.

    I’m glad I’m a skeptical guy, but honestly, I have some real unknowledgeable friends who wouldn’t think twice about calling that number back. Now I’m just hoping that they call me back again.

  15. ptkdude says:

    @timmus: I don’t know, I LOVE talking with telemarketers. I usually make them go through their spiel a few times, then ask lots of really stupid questions about whatever they’re selling, then tell them I’m not interested and hang up. I only had to do it 2 or 3 times and I haven’t gotten another call in 4 or 5 years.

  16. spinachdip says:

    Jeez, even the convicts are out to scam us? If we can’t trust the criminals, who can we trust?

    For serious though, you don’t have to be too much of an idiot to fall for this. Psychological studies have shown time and again that if you can convince people that you have authority, you can easily manipulate them.

  17. TMurphy says:

    I bet the leader behind this is this one guy that currently residing in the Cook Country federal prison, had embezzled money from his insurance company who said he’d get a movie made about his ‘innocent’ story. He’s probably trying to build up hype for the coming attraction.

    @don roberto

    You should see the Onion article on this neat invention called a “floor”… these things look amazing!

    (its worth dozens of laughs: [])

  18. psionix says:


    I work for the big phone company here in St. Louis (guess who!). Call forwarding is activated by “72#” not “*72”. I’m disappointed that the Post-Dispatch wouldn’t fact-check.

    Prison collect calls always have a recorded message at the beginning identifying them as such. I’m also not sure why these so-called “victims” would accept a collect call from someone they didn’t know (much less from an inmate they didn’t know!).

    BTW, anyone that still has a landline and wants a collect call block can call and get one for free.

  19. Jess A. says:

    @psionix: As this Snopes article on the *72 scam points out: And although *72 is the sequence most commonly used for call forwarding, some phone service providers may use different sequences.

  20. forever_knight says:

    @sly100100: common sense does not exist. there is no baseline of intelligence out there. unless you are assuming the cut off line is mental retardation (IQ <70).

  21. humphrmi says:


    Cook Country federal prison

    ??? Where is Cook Country? I live in Cook County, and we have a County Prison (actually, I think they call it a “jail”, but at least the word “prison” came from the post… :)

  22. Chongo says:

    @psionix: the message I got was in spanish… I have a couple Latino friends who speak spanish so I assumed it was one of them. I however did NOT fall for the ultimate scam.

  23. chipslave says:

    Who is the world do these people call when they scam and what do they talk about anyway? I can’t seem to keep engaged in a phone conversation for more than about 10 minutes…