Bell Atlantic to alert beeper users about scam


Users of pagers beware: A scam may be headed your way.

That's the word from Bell Atlantic Mobile, the paging arm of Bell Atlantic Corp., which plans to start alerting its 95,000 customers next month about a paging scam that has been making the rounds across the country.

The scam, which surfaced last spring, works like this: People with pagers are beeped to call back a New York-area telephone number.

When people call the number, they are linked to a 900-number operation -- and socked for $55 for the call.

A number of exchanges within the 212 area code have been used in the scam, and it is not clear whether one person is responsible or several people are working the same angle.

Although the breadth of the scam is unknown, a number of companies have issued warnings to their employees.

USX Corp. in Pittsburgh, TRW Corp. in San Diego, Calif., and CSX Corp. in Richmond, Va., are among the companies that have issued the warnings in recent months. Even Bellcore, the research arm of the seven regional Bell phone companies, issued a warning to its employees last month.

"Information about the scam has spread through the grapevine widely," said Ron Golden, vice president of government relations for Telocator, the national association that represents the paging industry. "But the extent to which it is actually happening, we're just not sure."

New York Telephone Co. said it is fielding inquiries about the beeper scam from as far away as Alaska and California.

Brian Wood, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic Mobile, said only a handful of customers in the Baltimore-Washington area have complained about getting such calls. Still, that was enough to convince the company to include a public warning about the scam in next month's bills, which will be mailed in mid-February.

"We're going to send notification to customers that if they see that 212 exchange to think twice before calling back," Mr. Wood said.

Likewise, Metromedia Paging, the paging subsidiary of Southwestern Bell, has been advising its customers for some months to watch for unfamiliar New York-area numbers that pop up on beepers.

David Burch, Metromedia's sales manager, said there have been no reported cases of customers being snared by the scam. But he said salesmen are continuing to advise customers about it, just in case.

Mr. Golden of Telocator also believes the scam may be history, but the group isn't taking any chances. The organization sent out an advisory in November about the beeper scam.

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