Viral Post Warns of Purported Telephone Scam

Alert warns customers not to dial #90, but cellphones are unaffected

Businessman dialing telephone in office
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An urban legend has been circulating since at least 1998 warning telephone users against dialing "#90" or "#09," due to a purported telephone scam. Phone users allegedly receive a call telling them to dial this combination of numbers for "a test" being conducted by a phone company technician. When the victim dials the number, the caller is given instant access to the person's phone, allowing him to call any number in the world — and have the charges posted on the victim's bill. Read on to learn about this viral posting, what folks are saying about it, as well as the facts of the matter.


The following email was sent in 1998:

Subject: Fwd: Phone Scam (fwd)

Hi everyone,

A friend sent me this e-mail today to warn me and anyone else of yet another phone scam. Beware.

I received a telephone call from an individual identifying himself as an AT&T Service Technician who was running a test on our telephone lines. He stated that to complete the test I should touch nine (9), zero (0), pound sign (#) and hang up. Luckily, I was suspicious and refused.

Upon contacting the telephone company we were informed that by pushing 90# you end up giving the individual that called you access to your telephone line and allowing them to place a long distance telephone call, with the charge appearing on your telephone bill. We were further informed that this scam has been originating from many of the local jails/prisons.

Please pass the word.

Analysis of This Urban Legend

As shocking as this may sound, the "nine-zero-pound" story is partly true.

What the warning email floating around the internet doesn't say is that this scam only works on telephones where you have to dial "9" to get an outside line. Unless you have to dial "9" to get an outside line at home, this scam does not affect residential telephone users. Dialing "90#" on a residential phone will only give you a busy signal. That's it.

Works Only on Some Business Phones

On some business phones, however, dialing "90#" may transfer a call to an outside operator and give the caller the opportunity to call anywhere in the world and charge it to your business' phone bill ... maybe. It all depends on how your business' telephone system is set up. If your company doesn't require you to dial "9" to get an outside line — for example, if you have a direct outside telephone line on your desk or if your company's phone system requires you to dial a number other than 9 to get an outside line — the "90#" scam does not affect you.

Also, if your company's phone system is set up so that you cannot make a long distance call once you have accessed an outside line (a lot of companies now limit all outside lines to local calls only), the "90#" scam does not affect you either.

The scam only affects those businesses that require you to dial "9" to get an outside line and then place no restrictions on who or where you can call once you get that outside line. However, for residential phone users, and particularly for cellphone users, there is no danger when dialing any combination of the listed numbers. This legend may have been somewhat true 20 to 30 years ago, but with new technology, it is no longer an issue. However, every now and again it pops up in chain emails causing more confusion and worry.