note to parents and teachers
The government of Sierra Leone in western Africa announced that several now disused numbering ranges have been used for fraudulent purposes. As of 2019‑05‑19, the following ranges in telephone country code +232 are no longer valid: +232 21, +232 23, +232 24, +232 32, +232 40, +232 42, +232 44, +232 50, +232 52, and +232 55. As usual, you may see these numbers advertised with the international prefix (011 from North America, 00 from many countries around the world). There were once valid numbers, including both landlines (fixed lines) and mobile phones, in most of those numbering ranges, but all numbers in those ranges are now invalid and should be blocked by your international carrier; however, it wouldn’t hurt to block them in your PBX just to be sure.
The last update to the listings on this page was on 2000‑12‑30 — almost a full decade ago at this writing (2010‑11‑22). The primary reason for the lack of updates is that the phenomenon of international telesleaze numbers has largely faded away. The cost of international calls has dropped substantially, leaving far narrower margins for kickbacks to service providers. Also, many countries that initially embraced telesleaze as a boost to their economies came to see it as a stain on their national reputation and an impediment to attracting legitimate business. (See the paragraph about Tuvalu below.) The days when you could hardly sit through a half-hour sitcom without an ad for “Ten-Ten-BlahBlahBlah” long distance are gone, and so, too, are the days when you could hardly open a freebie newspaper without seeing dozens of ads for adult chat lines supposedly in countries you’ve never heard of.
By “Telesleaze” I refer primarily to sexually oriented telephone lines, but also other services where the service operator receives revenue from each call. Most people in the U.S. are familiar with 900 and 976 numbers, as well as other prefixes that are used in some areas. Other countries have prefixes such as 0898 and 0906 (and several others) in the U.K. All of those prefixes are for domestic use only, and are subject to laws and regulations that may restrict content and/or offer consumer protections such as a requirement that the cost of the call be clearly identified during an initial period that allows the customer to hang up without charge.
In order to bypass the regulations imposed by various countries, some operators have moved their phone lines to certain friendly countries in areas including the Caribbean, Africa, and the former Soviet Union — and such infamous “third-world banana republics” as the United Kingdom and Sweden. When a person in the U.S. dials a number in another country, a portion of the cost of the call goes to the telephone company in the other country, to pay for the cost of completing that leg of the call. In many cases, these “settlements” are substantial, often exceeding the cost of the international call carriage itself. (By “cost of international call carriage” I refer to the cost of carrying the call to the inbound international gateway of the destination country; see the example below.) The settlement may reach as high as $1 to $2 per minute. In the case of “telesleaze” numbers, the service operator will often place its equipment at the location where inbound international calls enter the country. The telco then pays a portion of the settlements to the service operator. The foreign telco’s actual cost of handling the call is minimal, since it is carried literally a few meters within the same building.
Let’s suppose that you live in Anytown, U.S.A., with Anytowntel as your local phone company and Fictional Long Distance as your long-distance carrier. [No reference to any actual company is intended nor should be inferred.] You pick up your phone and dial a telesleaze number in the Republic of Hypothetica. You will be billed by Fictional for that call at the rate they charge for calls to Hypothetica, and that is the entire extent of your involvement in the billing process — what you pay is determined entirely and exclusively by Fictional. However, Fictional will pay a fee to Anytowntel for carrying the call from your house to Fictional’s long-distance switch in your region. In most cases, that fee is quite small. Fictional will then incur costs on its internal network, or will incur costs for the use of some other carrier’s network if Fictional is a re-seller, to carry your call from its LD switch near you to its U.S. outbound international gateway, and from there to the inbound international gateway on the island of Hypothetica. Fictional then pays the Hypothetical Telephone Company a fee for completing the last leg of the call on its island. It is that last fee that often comprises the lion’s share of the cost to you of an international call — Fictional may get the call all the way from your house to the inbound gateway on Hypothetica for a nickel or a dime a minute, or perhaps a bit more, but then pay anywhere from a quarter or so to a dollar or two per minute to HypoTel. [nickel = $0.05, dime = $0.10, quarter = $0.25]
There is no surcharge involved with international telesleaze numbers — you generally pay exactly the same rate as for an ordinary call to an ordinary number in that same country. However, a part of the normal cost of your call is diverted to the operator of the telesleaze number.
There have been some cases where a telesleaze number appeared in the numbering space of one country, but the call was actually routed to a different country, or may even have never left the country of origin. For example, in a recent case, Internet users were enticed to use software that would disconnect them from their local Internet provider and redial (with the modem speaker disabled, of course) to a number that appeared to be in Moldova (eastern Europe). However, the call actually terminated in Canada. U.S. Federal prosecutors lodged fraud charges against those operators, on the allegation that it constituted a criminal act to charge the caller at the rates for Moldova when the call actually went to Canada.
Personally, I have no objection to allowing consenting adults access to whatever content they might want, whether it’s lotto numbers, psychic help lines, adult chat rooms, or one-on-one sexual fantasy talk, so long as the caller knows what he or she is calling and the charges are presented in a clear and forthright manner with appropriate consumer protections. The only content I would ban would be such things as child pornography, where the content is illegal irrespective of how it is delivered.
I object strenuously to the misuse of international settlements payments, which are intended to compensate foreign telephone companies for the use of their domestic networks. Carrying a call ten meters from the inbound switch to a conference bridge in the next room is not what I consider “use of the domestic network.” Worse, the charges are often inadequately disclosed, and the consumer has little or no protection against misleading or outright fraudulent use of these international numbers.
For what it’s worth, I also object to billing anything other than the cost of call carriage on a phone bill. It doesn’t meet my definition of “charges presented in a clear and forthright manner.” The phone bill should not be a substitute for a credit card, used to charge any sort of expense with only a tenuous connection — if any at all — to the telephone. In answer to a current television ad, no, I don’t think it would be great to be able to charge a can of soda to my cellphone. I realize that I’m in the minority in that view, so we’re likely to be able to continue to charge more and more things other than telephone calls to our phone bills. I do insist, though, that the process be clear and above board, with safeguards to protect against unauthorized or unwanted charges. In particular, I want to be able to say up front that — no matter what options other people want to take advantage of — I don’t want to be able to add onto my phone bill the cost of a can of soda, or a charitable donation, or a conference chat with lonely singles in my area, or a psychic reading, or a new refrigerator, or my car payment, or anything else except the cost of connecting my phone to someone else’s phone. That’s why we have 900/976 blocking, but some people believe that I ought to be able to charge whatever I want on my phone bill, whether I like it or not.
No, sorry, no cash bonus on this challenge, but I will offer recognition on this web page and/or any other appropriate forum to anyone who can meet this challenge.
Many chain letters, web articles, and other sources, have claimed that there are some telesleaze numbers that are billed at outrageously high rates, far in excess of the cost of a normal call. It is certainly true that calls to the numbers below may range anywhere from the $1/minute ballpark for +1 in the non-U.S. Caribbean, up to around $6/minute for other countries (the “011+” variety), for calls placed from the U.S., especially if the call is completed with a 101xxxx company code different from the caller’s default carrier. However, the very highest rates I have seen are in the range of $10/minute for calls to shipboard satellite phones and Antarctic research stations. There are certainly not any numbers anywhere that will be billed at US$2,500.00/minute, as some warnings have claimed.
I have yet to see ANY evidence that any of the numbers listed below, or any similar numbers not listed, are charged at any rate different from the cost of a call to the same country on the same long-distance carrier. For example, 1-473-468-xxxx might be a telesleaze number, but you will pay exactly the same amount if you call the U.S. Embassy on 1-473-444-xxxx. The only exception, small but likely to grow larger in the future, is that most long-distance carriers now charge extra for calls to cellular phones in many foreign countries, because the inbound settlement includes caller-pays airtime charges. However, I have not yet seen any evidence of telesleaze operators exploiting that fact.
The challenge is to demonstrate to me the existence of any wireline (i.e., non-cellular) telesleaze number that carries a surcharge over and above the cost of a call to an ordinary number in the same Caribbean area code or the same non-NANP country code. In other words, for instance, a 1-284-xxx-xxxx number that costs more than other 1-284-xxx-xxxx numbers, or a 011-683-xxxx number that costs more than other 011-683-xxxx numbers, dialed in the same way during the same rate period (day, evening, weekend, etc.) on the same long-distance carrier. If your example involves a cellular prefix in the destination country, you must show that the example involves the sort of kickback to an information provider that we’re talking about on this page, as well as showing how the number was advertised to get U.S. callers to dial using a company code that would result in a higher cost per minute. Regarding rate periods, keep in mind that the rate periods for international calls are generally not the same as for domestic calls. For instance, calls to India may be cheapest in the middle of the day and most expensive in the middle of the night.
Submit your entry, complete with documentation of the telesleaze number and applicable charges, versus the charges for a similar call to a non-telesleaze number in the same country, to challenge at lincmad dot com, along with your suggestion of what recognition you’d like (anonymous, name only, name and city, mentioned in Telecom Digest, etc.). Remember, you must have two calls, one telesleaze and the other not, to the same country, on the same long-distance carrier, with the same international rate plan in effect, in the same rate period, but with a higher charge for the telesleaze number. I can’t promise you great fortune, nor even 15 minutes of fame, but I’ll give you at least 15 electrons of fame if I can. Please use this address only for submitting an example of a surcharged telesleaze number that costs more than ordinary numbers in the same country.
A recent chain e-mail has been circulating with fragments of an old Internet ScamBusters alert about the “809 scam.” Because of an arcane feature in some Usenet software, the dollar sign $ is sometimes translated into the string =24 (for ASCII character 36, or 0x24 in hexadecimal), so that $25 becomes =2425 and $100 becomes =24100. Thus, ScamBusters’ original warning about numbers at up to $25/minute or a total of $100, became greatly inflated when someone changed $25 to =2425 to $2425 and so forth. The latest information from Internet ScamBusters is available on their web site.
This particular chain e-mail is also recognizable for repeating the error of the original ScamBusters article in identifying area code +1 809 as “The British Virgin Islands (The Bahamas).” Until 1995, area code +1 809 covered 19 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Atlantic islands. Area code +1 809 now covers only the Dominican Republic; the B.V.I. are +1 284, the Bahamas are +1 242, and the rest have been assigned their own area codes.
All information I have indicates that even the figure of $25/minute that ScamBusters used is greatly inflated. For calls to area code +1 809 (and its more recent cousins), even a figure of $2.50/minute is unlikely, and many folks would find charges more like $0.35/minute for calling area code +1 809. Furthermore, the 809 scam has basically died out, due in part to some high-profile criminal prosecutions. However, it is always a good idea to know where you’re calling, especially if it might be an international call, and to know how to find out how much you’ll be charged.
That said, if you receive a copy of the chain e-mail with the greatly inflated figures, please do not forward it on to anyone else. Drop the sender a short note, pointing him or her to this page (http://www.LincMad.com/telesleaze.html) or to the new ScamBusters page (http://www.ScamBusters.org/809Scam.html). If you want to warn your friends about this scam, also send them those two references instead of the text of the chain e-mail.
The prefixes shown below are based on information gathered from sources that may not be reliable. You should use this chart only as a starting point. Carefully investigate any number that appears suspicious. This list is primarily from advertisements seen in various newspapers and on the Internet. As much as possible, I have tried to identify the exact range of numbers that are “telesleaze,” but it is likely that some of the numbers shown below are legitimate, and that some numbers not shown below are telesleaze. Absolutely no warranty of any kind is given on this information.
All numbers are shown in full international format. Numbers beginning with “+1” are in North America; callers within the U.S. and Canada would dial those as “one-plus” without the international 011 prefix, even though these calls are to other countries at expensive international rates. Numbers beginning with other country codes (e.g., +592) are dialed as “011 plus” when calling from North America. In many parts of the world, the international “00” prefix is substituted for the “+” symbol. Hyphens and dots are used only for spacing; numbers shown in [square brackets] indicate limited subranges; for instance, [1/3/8]xxx would mean 1xxx or 3xxx or 8xxx. Xs in brackets at the end of a number indicate a variable number of digits; for instance, 5xx[xx] could be 5xx, 5xxx, or 5xxxx. A number in strikeout type is a number that is probably no longer in use due to a national renumbering. The telesleaze operator may have moved to a new number range.
The name of each country or territory is preceded by its two-letter ISO country code, which is the top-level Internet domain (CCTLD) for that country. Do not confuse these “e-mail country codes” with U.S. state abbreviations; for instance, PA = Panama, not Pennsylvania.
|+1-268-404-xxxx||AG Antigua & Barbuda|
|+1-268-739-xxxx||AG Antigua & Barbuda (268-SEX-xxxx)|
|+1-268-938-xxxx||AG Antigua & Barbuda (268-WET-xxxx)|
|+1-473-328-xxxx||GD Grenada (473-EAT-xxxx)|
|+1-473-468-xxxx||GD Grenada (473-HOT-xxxx)|
|+1-473-938-xxxx||GD Grenada (473-WET-xxxx)|
|+1-649-446-xxxx||TC Turks & Caicos Islands|
|+1-664-41x-xxxx||MS Montserrat (410 and other prefixes)|
|+1-758-455-xxxx||LC St. Lucia|
|+1-758-457-xxxx||LC St. Lucia|
|+1-784-456-xxxx||VC St. Vincent & the Grenadines|
|+1-784-490-xxxx||VC St. Vincent & the Grenadines|
|+1-809-474-xxxx||DO Dominican Republic|
|+1-809-476-xxxx||DO Dominican Republic|
|+1-809-563-xxxx||DO Dominican Republic|
|TT Trinidad & Tobago
1010890 = North County Communications Corp.
(Note: there are legitimate numbers in the +1-868-622 prefix; I recommend blocking 1010890+ rather than blocking this specific prefix in Trinidad.)
|+1-876-468-xxxx||JM Jamaica (1-876-HOT-xxxx)|
In addition, there are three special area codes that may serve telesleaze operators at premium rates. Area code 900 is familiar to most people in the U.S.; it provides service at per-call or per-minute rates set by the operator of each individual line. Less familiar is area code 700, which is unique in that you must select the correct long-distance carrier for the call. The carrier and the provider may set any rates for the call. These numbers are usually advertised as 101xxxx-1-700-xxx-xxxx, although outdated ads may still show 10xxx-1-700. Even less known is area code 500, providing “personal number” service. The intent was to forbid the use of 500 numbers for telesleaze, but some operators have exploited a loophole that allows 500 numbers to forward to an international number, with the originating caller paying the additional charge. For that reason, the charge for calling a 500 number is unpredictable, and those numbers are therefore blocked from many payphones, hotels, and PBXs. Unfortunately, the promise of “follow-me” personal numbers has been badly tainted by the greed of telesleaze operators.
The following chart lists all North American area codes that are not in Canada, the United States, or U.S. possessions. Most numbers in these area codes are legitimate, but they will still be charged at international rates. Since these numbers are dialed from the U.S. and Canada in the same manner as domestic calls, unwary callers may be unpleasantly surprised when the phone bill arrives.
|+1 242 BS Bahamas||+1 246 BB Barbados||+1 264 AI Anguilla|
|+1 268 AG Antigua & Barbuda||+1 284 VG British Virgin Islands||+1 345 KY Cayman Islands|
|+1 441 BM Bermuda||+1 473 GD Grenada||+1 649 TC Turks & Caicos Is.|
|+1 664 MS Montserrat||+1 758 LC St. Lucia||+1 767 DM Dominica|
|+1 784 VC St. Vincent & the Grenadines||+1 809 & +1 829 & +1 849 DO Dominican Rep.||+1 868 TT Trinidad & Tobago|
|+1 869 KN St Kitts & Nevis||+1 876 & +1 658 JM Jamaica|
The following chart lists some of the prefixes in other countries that may be used for telesleaze. Again, there may be legitimate uses of some of the numbers identified below, and there are certain to be other prefixes used for telesleaze. See the list of all country codes if you need to identify a number not listed here.
|+232-21, 23, 24, 32, 40, 42, 44, 50, or 55||SL Sierra Leone (Africa)|
|+237-7xx xxx||CM Cameroon (Africa)|
|+239-129xxxx||ST São Tomé & Príncipe (Africa)|
|+239-[3/5/8/9]xxx||ST São Tomé & Príncipe (Africa)|
|+245-294xxx||GW Guinea-Bissau (Africa)|
|+246-[0/2/8]xxx||IO Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean)
Note: ordinary numbers are +246-9xxx or +246-370-xxxx
|+248-31xxxx||SC Seychelles (Indian Ocean)|
|+261-73xxx||MG Madagascar (Africa)|
|+290-99xx||SH Saint Helena (Africa)|
|+372-920 xxxx||EE Estonia (eastern Europe)|
|+373-2xxx or 83x.xxxx or 9xx.xxxx||MD Moldova (former Soviet Union)|
|+44-700-509.xxxx or 590.xxxx||UK United Kingdom (Note: there are legitimate numbers in +44 700)|
|+46 9469 xxxx||SE Sweden|
|+507-507xxx||PA Panama (Central America)|
|+509-29x.xxxx||HT Haiti (Caribbean)|
|+509-9xxxxx||HT Haiti (Caribbean)|
|+52-95x xxxx||MX Mexico|
|+56-1365 or 83xxx or 9xxxxx||CL Chile (South America)|
|+56-900 xxxx||CL Chile (South America)|
|+58-2399xxxx||VE Venezuela (South America)|
|+590-59xxxx||GP Guadeloupe (Caribbean)|
|+592-1xxx or 2xxxxx or 5xxxxx||GY Guyana (South America)|
|+597-42xxxx or 69xxxx||SR Suriname (South America)|
|+599-2xxx or 6xxx||AN Netherlands Antilles (Caribbean)|
|+60-46 xxx xxx||MY Malaysia (southeast Asia) — outdated listing|
|+63-988 xxx xxxx||PH Philippines|
|+678-[5/6/7]xxxxx||VU Vanuatu (New Hebrides, South Pacific)|
|+683-[2/5/6/7/8/9]xxx||NU Niue (South Pacific)|
|+7-504-xxx.xxxx||RU Russia (advertised 011-750-etc.)|
|+852-1729 xx(xx)||HK Hong Kong|
|+972-565 xxxxx||IL Israel (migrated to +972-1956-5?)|
|+972-195[6/7] xxxxxx||IL Israel (may not work outside Israel)|
|+995-32xxxx||GE Georgia (former Soviet Union)|
In many cases, ads for services using these prefixes may attempt to disguise their nature by formatting the number differently; for example, 0-115-922-xxxxx instead of 011-592-2xxxxx. Numbers (especially those using North American area codes) may be advertised as “FREE!,” the catch being that there is no surcharge for the number, only the normal international long-distance charge. You may even see disclaimers such as “Long distance charges apply when calling from outside the 664 area code,” although the ad does not appear in the 664 area code and the number may not even be dialable there. U.S. Federal Trade Commission regulations require that ads appearing in U.S. publications so indicate if international toll charges apply, but the regulations are difficult to enforce. Lastly, some numbers, including otherwise ordinary numbers in familiar U.S. area codes, may require you to dial a particular long distance company code 101XXXX before the call. Again, the ad may try to obscure this fact by formatting the number differently, such as 101-050-9120-6xxx-xxxx. Beware of any number that must be dialed with a particular company code, as that company’s rates may be significantly higher than your usual carrier’s rate for the same area code. If someone is offering a telephone sex line, you can be certain that they expect money to appear from somewhere. Any number that has the “011” dialing prefix, with or without a company code before it, is an international call.
Note that, effective 1998‑07‑01, all five-digit 10XXX carrier codes were replaced with the new seven-digit 101XXXX code. All previous codes simply added “10” to the front of the old five-digit code. New codes in the range 1015000 – 1016999 are being assigned now, and other codes will be assigned in the future.
The tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu once had telesleaze numbers, and they provided a significant stream of hard-currency income. However, making money off of sexually explicit phone numbers offended the moral sensibilities of the people, so they found an alternative source of hard currency: the Internet. The “dotTV” domain that you’re beginning to hear advertised belongs to Tuvalu, and they collect a portion of the fee for every .tv domain name registered. The revenue will provide for economic growth, while avoiding the stigma of telesleaze. Congratulations to the people of Tuvalu! May many others follow your example.
Absolutely no warranty of any kind for any purpose whatsoever is granted to anyone, irrespective of legal theory. The information presented here is intended solely as a starting point, but anyone who requires reliable and up-to-date information in this regard (such as for blocking prefixes from a company PBX) is strongly advised to consult other sources, including your long-distance provider. If you know of a legitimate number within a range identified above as telesleaze, or if you know of a telesleaze number not shown above, please let me know, but I cannot guarantee that corrections will appear in a timely manner.
This web page contains information about telephone numbers that may provide sexually explicit content inappropriate for children. However, this page does not provide the complete number, and warns children against calling any such numbers. In particular, it should be clear to any children reading this page that their parents will find out and be unhappy if they dial such numbers. I thus feel that this page itself is not inappropriate for children, since it does not provide sexual content or any direct or indirect link to sexual content.
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