Snooping into the #90 aka Evolution of an Urban Legend

Sometimes the chance to work out our skeptical muscles plop right out of the sky and into the inbox.

I received an email last night that held all the trappings of a silly urban legend scare scam.
Here it is.

—–Inline Message Follows—–

I dialed ‘0’, to check this out, asked the operator, who confirmed
that this was correct so please pass it on . . . (l also checked out
This is true, and also applies to cell phones!)


I received a telephone call last evening from an individual identifying
himself as an AT&T Service Technician (could also be Telus) who was
conducting a test on the telephone lines. He stated that to complete the
test I should touch nine(9), zero(0), the pound sign (#), and then hang up.
Luckily, I was suspicious and refused.

Upon contacting the telephone company, I was informed that by pushing 90#,
you give the requesting individual full access to your telephone line,
which enables them to place long distance calls billed to your home phone

I was further informed that this scam has been originating from many local
jails/prisons DO NOT press 90# for ANYONE.

The GTE Security Department requested that I share this information with

After checking with Verizon they also said it was true, so do
not dial 90# for anyone !!!!!


Well, I thought, it sounds rather silly. Why would that work? How would that even work? But it says right there that they contacted the operator, Verizon, etc. Could it be true? Should I call the operator myself?

Heck, it even says “(l also checked out This is true, and also applies to cell phones!) “

Hmmm… well that is easy to check up on, so I also looked it up on… (here is the direct link to the article) and found out what many of you will already know.

This is another urban legend based on a teeny tiny bit of past fact.

The scam does not affect residential or cell phone customers. It only applies to large institutions that still use telephone private branch exchanges (PBXs) rather than the Centrex lines to handle calls. As in self run switchboard places that use 9 to dial out and have internal monitoring devices… so the scam is to get an operator to dial the 9 (while still on the call) so that the person on the other line could use the company’s phone system to dial long distance.

But most places a) don’t use this system anymore and b) have operators who aren’t going to do anything like this.

And I guarantee you that no one is going to call your house or cell phone to actually try it because it wouldn’t work. If they do… they are just messing with you, it is a crank call.

So, harmless fear mongering email.

The twist is the (l also checked out This is true, and also applies to cell phones!) part.

Could this be social evolution in process? The more believable the urban legend, the more likely it is to get continued.. over the years it must adapt to stay “alive” even if that adaptation is the incorporation of dealing with our knee jerk reaction of disbelief. It isn’t enough to say “I know someone who said…” or “My cousin’s hairdresser is married to a lawyer who totally checked this out…”

We have involved to the “Snopes says it” phase.


Published by kayliametcalfe

Queer,loudmouth,skeptical-agnostic-pagan,book addict,coffee lover,wine drinker, SAHM,writer,editor,producer,podcaster. -She/her

2 thoughts on “Snooping into the #90 aka Evolution of an Urban Legend

  1. That legend is still around? I remember hearing about it with land lines back when I was still in High School!


  2. I've noticed the tag line \”I've checked Snopes and it's true!\” on many of these e-mails as well and thought it was very interesting that people would include that. I love that we humans are so addicted to drama and in need of a bogeyman that we'll do almost anything to lend credence to laughable scare e-mails.


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