Scammers Standby to Answer Misdialed Numbers

Before some callers realize they misdialed by a digit, the marketers at the "copycat" number try to reel them in, according to the Federal Trade commission

Whether you are tired, multitasking, distracted or you simply have fat fingers, the odds are it will happen to you: you dial a number on the phone and mistakenly hit one wrong digit.

Lurking there is a murky marketing world with plenty of offers "just for you," an NBC Chicago investigation has found.

There are pitches for  two-night cruise in the Bahamas just for calling. Another pitch will offer a $100 shopping spree for pressing "1." Stay on the line and receive an offer for free dining at  your favorite local restaurant.

Before some callers realize they misdialed by a digit, the marketers at the "copycat" number try to reel them in, according to the Federal Trade commission.

"They're probably going to either try to collect personal information from the consumer who misdialed or they're going to try to sell them something," said FTC spokesperson Todd Kossow. "One form or another, they're up to no good because there's really no legitimate reason that you'd want to copy some of these numbers."

A name for this con game was given to the world by none other than Homer Simpson. In an episode of "The Simpsons," Homer repeatedly misdials a number.

David Peck of Lombard knows first-hand what can happen when one digit is off. It happened to him not once, but twice recently when he tried to dial his credit card helpline, without the help he needed from his glasses.

"I'm listening and I'm stupified. I get this cheesey promotional message saying hey you just won a prize," he recalled.

Peck says he hung up and decided to call back the next day, again without the aid of his glasses. He misdialed again -- differently -- and was told he'd "won."

"This is not a coincidence. So I say to myself, are these guys really savvy marketers or is this a scam-o-saurus by purveyors of evil?" Peck said.

Peck didn't fall for any of the offers, but decided a warning to others was in order. He called NBC Chicago to share his experience.

To see what kind of traps await, we tried our own fat fingers. Dialing one digit off a range of toll-free numbers, we found ourselves "winning" a wide array of prizes and getting hit up for some very personal information. Time after time, it was a tough task getting operators to tell us who they really work for. Many said they worked "for" or "with" our credit card company, and if we would just listen to their pitch, they could then connect us with the proper billing department.

When we demanded to be transferred to the legitimate department first, we were several times placed on eternal hold, left alone with our request and their elevator music.

In one of the highest profile "Fat Fingers" cases, the FTC in 2004 went after companies accused of buying 100 "copycat" numbers, perched just one digit off the voting lines for American Idol. The government accused the companies of trying to "capture" people who’d mistakenly misdialed. At least 25,000 callers were routed to a 900 number, charged for that call, then ultimately re-routed to the correct, free, number. The defendants settled, agreeing to cease the activity and to pay a $40,000 civil penalty.

FTC cases also include examples of fat finger typing. Those are websites that lurk just one letter off a legitimate domain address.

For his part, Peck resents the allegation his fingers are fat, but he does accept an alternate name for the phenomenon: "Blurry Eyeball" typing.

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