How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of the Jailhouse Jingles Phone Scam

Whether you use a landline or a cell phone, be wary of this phone scam

Person on a cell phone listening to a phone scam
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By simply answering your phone and deciding to help a stranger out of the goodness of your heart, you could unwittingly become a victim of an expensive phone scam known as "Jailhouse Jingles."

The scam gets its name from the fact that the scam most often takes place with prison inmates in lower-security facilities with access to payphones. The inmate may first call an outside accomplice, who then initiates a three-way call to you, thereby preventing you from hearing the recording that precedes calls from correctional facilities, which states that the call is coming from a convict at a particular prison. The inmate might also call you directly, using the prison recording and a little acting to their advantage. 

Many people never even look at their phone bills either and use auto-pay to take care of their bill each month, so criminals have found a way to exploit this and use it to their advantage.

The Jailhouse Jingles scammers know that, in prison, things work a little differently when it comes to placing a call. In prison, inmates must either prepay for a call or they must call collect, which reverses the charges so that the recipient of the call accepts the charge for the call. Some phone scammers avoid having to pay or having their loved ones pay for these prison calls by using this scam.

An Example Phone Call

The phone rings, and when you answer it, you receive a recording that asks if you will accept a call from an inmate at a certain prison facility. You may also be asked if you are willing to accept the charges of the collect call. You don't know anyone incarcerated at the prison, but you fear that someone you know has gotten in trouble, so you accept the call and the charges.

Next, a different voice on the other end asks for someone you don't know. It sounds like a wrong number or a misdial. But before you part ways, the inmate on the other end asks for your help. The inmate only gets one phone call, they'll tell you.

But they really need to get a hold of this person, and perhaps they'll tell you it's their mother. They'll ask if you could help them out by transferring the call.

They will then instruct you by saying, all you have to do is press *72 and the correct phone number. They want you to think you're helping this person out, someone who's obviously down on his luck. But in reality, you've just opened yourself up to the possibility of a very expensive phone bill. 

Dialing the phone sequences *72, 72#, or 90# activates call forwarding, which essentially transfers control of your phone to the person on the other end. By dialing one of these sequences and whatever telephone number the caller provides you, you have essentially allowed the scam artist to continue to make long-distance phone calls or collect calls to your account even after you hang up because the calls will automatically forward to a third party. They'll be racking up quite the phone bill at your expense, while your phone may not even ring. 

How This Costs You Money

Since all calls from jails and prisons are made as collect calls, the charges appearing on your next phone bill could total hundreds of dollars or more. When you receive your phone bill, you may find charges for many calls you know you didn't make, perhaps even for costly 900 "sex line" numbers or other calls that cost nearly $1 per minute or more.

Avoid Being a Victim 

You can easily avoid being a victim of this scam simply by knowing about it. Never dial *72 or any other number, including call-forwarding numbers, at the request of a stranger. That stranger could be an inmate as in the example above, or it could be a stranger posing as a police officer, emergency room personnel, or another authority figure.

This person may pretend to have called the wrong number, and apply pressure by saying they have limited time or limited phone calls and may ask you to "transfer" the call. Anyone asking you to dial these sequences, however, is looking to use your phone account, not looking for help. 

How to Stop the Calls

If for some reason you do dial a call-forwarding sequence or have done so recently, you can deactivate it by dialing *73 for Verizon phone accounts or 73# for other phone service providers.

Report This Scam

Many phone scams come in and out of style, particularly as technology continues to change. If you ever receive what you believe to be a Jailhouse Jingle call or any other phone scam, you can help fight telephone fraud by reporting it. Report telephone scam artists to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) and to your state attorney general. Also, learn how to recognize a credit card phone scam or debt collection scams or even email scams