Fact Check

Does #-9-0 Allow Scammers to Make Long-Distance Calls on Your Phone?

Snopes has been getting variations on this warning for over 20 years.

Published Oct. 28, 1998

A rotary phone. (Wikimedia Commons/Dave Lauretti CC BY-SA 2.0) (Wikimedia Commons/Dave Lauretti CC BY-SA 2.0)
A rotary phone. (Wikimedia Commons/Dave Lauretti CC BY-SA 2.0)
Pressing #-9-0 on your telephone will allow scammers to make long-distance calls and charge them to your phone bill.

Every few years, we get some variation of this claim in our inbox:

[Collected via e-mail, 1998]


On Saturday, 24 January 1998, Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans' Quarterdeck received a telephone call from an individual identifying himself as an AT&T Service Technician that was running a test on our telephone lines. He stated that to complete the test the QMOW should touch nine (9), zero (0), pound sign (#) and hang up. Luckily, the QMOW was suspicious and refused. Upon contacting the telephone company we were informed that by using 90# you end up giving the individual that called you access to your telephone line and allows them to place a long distance telephone call, with the charge appearing on your telephone. We were further informed that this scam has been originating from many of the local jails/prisons. Please "pass the word."

[Collected via e-mail, 2002]


A well known telephone scam is now being used on cellular telephones.

There is a fraudulent company that is using a device to gain access to the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card, which contains all subscriber related data (this is the brains in the phone) in your cellular

A scam artist places a call to an unsuspecting person and the caller says he or she is testing mobile (cellular) telephone circuits or equipment. The called party is asked to press #90 or #09. If this happens END THE CALL IMMEDIATELY with out pressing the numbers. Once you press #90 or #09 the company can access your SIM Card and makes calls at your expense.

[Collected via e-mail, 2003]

If you receive a text message on your mobile from the number 15477 Indicating that you have won a 2 night stay in the Druid's Marriott in Wicklow, saying that they you must reply with the text "#90" or "#09", You Should delete this text immediately and not reply. This is a fraud Company using a device, that once you press #90 or #09 and reply text, they can Access your "SIM" card and make calls at your expense. Forward this message to as many friends as you can to stop it.

[Collected via e-mail, 2004]

Please note the following if you are using the mobile.

If you receive a phone call on your mobile from any person, saying that, he or she is a company engineer, or telling that they're checking your mobile line, and you have to press # 90 or #09 or any other number. End this call immediately without pressing any numbers. There is a fraud company using a device that once you press #90 or #09 they can access your "SIM" card and make calls at your expense. Forward this message to as many friends as you can, to stop it.

This item is another example of a scam warning that has been continuously circulating via the Internet for more than fifteen years now, thereby receiving vastly more publicity than the potential threat it describes actually warrants. Although the warning originally had some kernel of truth to it, only a very small, specialized portion of the phone-using public is now vulnerable to the scam described therein.

This scam does not affect residential or cell phone customers — it only applies to businesses, hospitals, government agencies, and other organizations that still use telephone private branch exchanges (PBXs) rather than Centrex lines to handle their calls. On certain PBX systems (i.e., ones for which pressing '9' is the signal to obtain an outside line, and there are no restrictions placed on outgoing calls), a scammer could gain access to place expensive, long-distance phone calls by tricking an employee into initiating the #-9-0 sequence. Outside of a few other settings where one might have to press '9' to obtain an outside line (such as hotels), the likely result of pressing #-9-0 will simply be a fast busy signal.

Later versions of this warning evolved to include mention of the risk that terrorists utilizing the #90 sequence could "frame innocent people" (presumably by making terrorism-related calls linked to the phone numbers of those innocent parties) and remotely access cell phone SIM cards:

Tips for heading off this form of telephone fraud include:

  • Businesses using PBX lines can ask their vendors to disallow call transfers to 90# and 900#.
  • Instruct telephone operators and employees to beware of requests for transfers to 900 or 800 extensions.
  • Train employees not to transfer anyone, ever, to an outside line.

You can learn more about this from AT&T.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.