They attack by telephone, e-mail, FedEx and by way of the United State Postal Service, and once again, Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant is saying that scammers will stop at nothing to profit and leave their victims to pay the price.

Bryant said he recently received about 50 calls from residents across the county. Each of the cases are similar and this time, the weapon of choice is the telephone. In each case, the caller claims to be attempting to complete a collect call from the Harris County Jail.

The scam goes something like this: The intended victim receives a telephone call at their residence. The caller asks if the victim will accept a collect call from the Harris County Jail. When the victim tells the caller they have the wrong number, the scammer then asks the victim to dial *72 (sometimes this varies depending on the phone company) and what the scammer says is the correct number, to decline the call. Once dialed, the fraud begins.

A security alert released by AT&T explains the scam.

“When the customer dials *72 followed by a telephone number, it activates the call forwarding feature causing all your incoming calls to ring at another number. At the end of the other line - whether calls have been forwarded to a landline, a cell phone or a payphone - the original caller’s partner-in-crime is able to accept all collect and third-party calls, while telling your own legitimate callers that they have the wrong number. You get billed for all calls made because your number is the one from which they are forwarded. This ingenious scam, which even overrides cell phones inability to get collect calls, may go on for several days before you become aware it has occurred.”

The phone company alert also advises telephone subscribers to be cautious of any phone number that begins with a *, #, 0, or 900 series number. 

“These prefixes, when used for fraud, may allow access to user’s account which can incur significant toll charges,” the alert, which can be found at the United States Department of Justice Web site, www.usdoj.gov, states.

Already aware of the scam, which dates back to the late 1990s, Bryant decided to call the Harris County Jail. Like all jails, Houston jailers log calls out of the facility.

“The calls are not coming from Harris County. They document all of their calls and they did not originate at the jail,” Bryant said. “The calls are most likely coming from a pay phone or prepaid, disposable cell phone.”

The sheriff is warning locals about the scam and advises everyone to decline similar calls to their telephones. If there is still a fear that a friend or family member may be incarcerated and in need of help, Bryant advises those individuals to call the jail directly to ask.

“Most importantly, never let another party talk you into dialing something on your phone that may open you up to a scam,” Bryant said.

Bryant began alerting citizens about scams when he first took office and said over the past 13 years many have crossed his desk. He said in tough economic times, scammers are working double duty to make a mint and have found victims in the unguarded.

“They are going to continue to prey on people and we will continue to alert county residents every time we are made aware of the scams,” Bryant said. “If county residents feel they are the intended victim of a scam, they can always give the sheriff’s office a call, or if they live within city limits, they can call the police department.”