Published: Feb 05, 2011 2:44 AM EST
Updated: Feb 04, 2011 11:44 PM EST

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. - It's a warning for anyone with a phone.  The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office tells us the person on the other end may not be interested in your conversation, but your money. If you're not careful, you could lose thousands of dollars.

The phone rings. You're not home, so the caller leaves you an urgent message. That's exactly what they were hoping for.

Bob Carpenter, Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Spokesperson explained they may leave a variety of messages including, "'Grandma, I'm in trouble,' that's one way. Or, 'you've just won the lottery,' which is the biggest scam in the world, or 'there's a debt here, and you've got to get this cleared up or else.'"

The number they leave will include a 3-digit area code like 809, 284, or 876, so you might think it's domestic. But it's not. It's actually from the Dominican Republic, British Virgin Islands, or Jamaica.

If you unknowingly call back, they'll try to keep you on the line as long as possible, or maybe even put you on hold. The longer you're on the line, the more of your money they'll get away with. Think of like a psychic hotline that charges $4.99 minute.

"Some people may wait and wait and they get put on hold so long, talk to this person and that person, it's all a setup, and it's hundreds, if not thousands," Carpenter said. "We had one that was $2,400."

It's a not-so-nice surprise to find when you open your phone bill. Scammers are ringing phones all around Florida because of it's proximity to the Caribbean. The FCC said they're even calling cell phones. So how can you protect yourself? Do anIn search for the number. Often common phone scams will come up.

AT&T advises consumers to always check the location of unfamiliar area codes before dialing, or visit to check the number.

"That person on the other end by the minute is charging you, and it goes into their pocket, not the phone company's," Carpenter said. "Do your homework first before you call them back."

Detectives said the area code exchanges mentioned are legitimate, but you should only return calls to family and friends at numbers you are familiar with that live outside the country. If you believe you have been scammed, contact the carrier that charged the amount to your phone bill. If that doesn't resolve the problem, contact AT&T to work with you and the carrier to help remove fraudulent charges from your phone bill. Or, you can file a complaint online with the Federal Communications Commission about this or related phone scams.