Bob and Kerry Robbins contacted News 4 Investigates to tell us about a phone call they received that frightened them at first, and then made them angry. Click here to listen to that phone call. It was a collect call, but the caller said he was with a sheriff's department and that they wouldn't be charged. After accepting the charges, the caller told Bob that someone involved in a serious accident had given authorities the Robbins number. The Robbins were told to call a specific phone number that would link them with an investigator on the scene who could tell them the identity of the person who was injured and the extent of the injuries.
Turns out it was a scam that's commonly carried out by inmates in city or county jails, who have access to phones. Their goal is to trick you into dialing a phone number that begins with 1172 or *72 which activates the call forwarding feature on your phone. The rest of the number they give you is usually a legitimate number that belongs to an inmate's friend, relative or fellow gang member on the outside. Afterwards the inmate dials your number, it goes directly to the 3rd party who will always accept the calls and you're number is billed for the charges. Usually it takes a day or two to realize something's fishy with your phone and turn off the call forwarding, but by then they may have racked up hundreds of dollars in charges. They've got to be really tricky to convince you to accept the call and then follow their instructions and some of them are really good at it. Just listen to these actual calls that originated from inside the Cook County jail in Chicago.
After the Robbins called, I started looking into the issue and it seemed as though all roads lead to Chicago. There are stories of people being scammed in Houston, Memphis, Wisconsin and California and in each case the calls came from the Cook County Jail. The county jail in Chicago is the 2nd largest jail in the U.S. with nearly 10,000 inmates. Because most are awaiting trial and have not been convicted, they're allowed much more access to phones than convicted inmates. There are 900 phones in the Cook County Jail and some of the inmates spend their entire day at the phones trying to scam people. Soon the jail will install a new phone system that will prevent calls from being forwarded. And recently the jail has made an effort to identify the most notorious phone scammers. Sheriff's department detectives are planning to forward the results of their investigation to the state's attorney soon in hopes the worst scammers will be charged. Don't expect the charges to scare the scammers, most are suspected murderers.
The first step to avoid being victimized yourself is knowing about the scam and the second is to never forward your phone at the request of anyone you don't know. Turning off the call forwarding feature on your phone is as easy as punching in *73. And if you have a friend or loved one involved in an accident, law enforcement officers would never call you collect.