Like any teenager, 15-year-old Whitney Lott jumps when the phone rings. But one recent phone call, made her jump for all the wrong reasons.
"Some man was like, well, 'I can't get a hold of my mother. Can you call her for me?' And I felt sorry for him," Lott recalled.
The call was from the Dallas County Jail - an inmate -- who claimed he had reached her by accident. Since he was only allowed one call - he asked a favor: transfer him to his mother by dialing *72, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowen.
"I thought I was helping someone out," she said.
But, she was being scammed. And so was a woman now so afraid she didn't want to be identified.
"He pleaded with me that his mother didn't know where he was, and I said, 'OK.' He said, 'but to call her, you have to dial *72' and he gave me the number," the woman said.
But what *72 actually does is transfer control of your phone to the inmate. And every call made to your number after that is forwarded, often to a pay phone. But you pay the charge because every call from jail is collect.
When the bill finally arrived at Whitney's home she soon found out she wasn't the only teen getting bogus "jailhouse jingles."
"I told some of my friends about how someone from jail was calling me asking this is and this, and they told me that happened to them…. And their parents were furious because they got a phone bill too," Lott said.
In her case -- there were 30 calls from the jail -- totaling $160.
The problem is rampant. In Florida, at least two inmates racked up more than $50,000 worth of collect calls to more than a hundred families.
But corrections officials say there's very little they can do.
"We have hundreds of inmates using one phone in the housing unit, so it's very difficult, it's impossible, for us to pin down who is making the calls," said Sheri Mausen, a spokeswoman for the Collier County Sheriff.
So if you're like Whitney, or the woman too fearful identity herself -- who all thought they were being Good Samaritans by helping an inmate down on his luck -- think again.
Had they all just hung up - none of them would have been hung out to dry.
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