Watch Out for the Wangiri Scam

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OVER the weekend, were you as fortunate as I was to get dragged out of peaceful slumber by a missed call from a strange international number?

I don’t remember how long my cell rang for, but it wasn’t long. The caller ID displayed the number +252 7500 1989, which showed up as originating from Somalia. I know no one from Somalia and suspected mischief was amiss. I immediately blocked the number, reported it as spam and went back to sleep.

Later that day, I learned that scores, if not hundreds, of persons in our country had also gotten the same type of call. It seems that it was our turn to once more become victims of a scam called Wangiri – Japanese for “one ring and drop.”

How does the scam work? Last year, the USA’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued warnings about this phone scam. The FCC said the scammer places a robocall to a number and hangs up after one or two rings.

They may call back several times. The FCC explained that the idea is to get the caller to call the number back. When they do, the caller is prompted to pay long-distance fees to connect the call. The phone charges paid by the victim to return the call frequently turn out to be quite costly and the scammers get a part of it.

While recognising the calls could originate from anywhere, the FCC said recently a lot of the calls were coming from international numbers. The FCC warned not to call back numbers that were not recognised, especially those appearing to originate overseas.

Today, I decided to delve deeper to learn even more about this scam. From my research, it appears that the scammers are actually using psychology against us. They are relying on some innate curiosity we supposedly have (something like the need to scratch an itch) to return a missed call, even from a strange international number.

The repetitive nature of the scam, where several missed calls are received in a day, adds to the mystery, intrigue and heightens the curiosity. (Hmm, good thing I blocked that number. Curiosity kills the cat and all.)

If you get hooked and decide to call back, the scammers employ different ways to keep you on the line as long as they possibly can, so that those pricey call charges could be racked up. You may hear an automated voice (sometimes in another language) and then music. All the while waiting to speak with a living person.

A very big question: how did they get our phone numbers? You know those massive data breaches we’ve been hearing about coming from everywhere including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and even the Marriott? Millions of customer records and personal information were exposed to the internet through shoddy security practices or got hacked and some of that data includes our phone numbers.

One theory is that these scammers may have purchased the stolen data on the black market in order to gain access to our private phone numbers. Another is that they may have legitimately found our exposed data online and used it.

What can we do when we receive the Wangiri call? I’ve already mentioned that we need to resist that mosquito-like instinctive urge to return the call. Other than that, do as I did – manually block the call to prevent further unwanted nuisance calls.

You can also report the call as spam so the calls can be blocked by others. If you are using a calling App on your cell, there is usually a way for you to report the call as spam.

Another option is to report the call to your phone service provider. Since the spammers seem to use a plethora of numbers to call, our service providers may be better placed to collate all the different spam numbers we report to them and take steps to block the calls at their gateway so that we don’t receive them.

Very importantly too, share your experience so that others become aware of the scam.

Don’t feed this apparently very lucrative scam. Be safe Trinidad and Tobago!

© Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney – client relationship. For legal advice, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly.


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