Guiding consumers since 2009

International phone call scams

By Jessica Anne Wood

Your phone rings once and before you can reach for it, the ringing stops. A look at the screen indicates that the call originated from another country. Should you phone back to see what the call was about?

For many, the answer would be a resounding ‘No’. There is a scam doing the rounds at the moment, where you are called from an international number. They allow the phone to ring once, and hang up, waiting for you to return the call. If and when you do phone back, you are left with a hefty bill by your network provider.

When asked about the scam, known as Wangiri fraud, local network provider MTN, responded: “How this scam works is that a subscriber will receive a missed call from an unknown international number, usually from Guinea (+224), Tunisia (+216), Tonga (+676), New Caledonia (+687) etc. These numbers are premium rate service that will incur the customer an exorbitant bill when the targeted customer returns the call.”

Justmoney staff have received these calls, with one staff member receiving multiple calls from Guinea (+224) and Macedonia (+389), while another received calls originating in Burundi (+257).

According to MTN, these numbers aim to artificially increase traffic, and offer a low cost method of generating revenue for the fraudsters who run these scams.“Our investigation has found that some of these numbers are designed to prolong customers to stay longer on the line by a recorded ring-tone or a long recorded message,” stressed MTN.

Addressing the issue

Local network providers are aware of the Wangiri fraud, and are taking steps to address it and reduce the impact on their customers.

MTN noted that it is monitoring these calls, and suspending the ranges so customers are unable to call these numbers back. “MTN is also working with carrier services and originating operators to clamp down on this fraud,” it added.

How can you prevent yourself from falling victim?

There are a number of steps you can take to help prevent yourself from falling victim to this scam. The simplest of which is, if you are not expecting an international call, ignore it and Google the number or do other research before returning the call.

MTN advised the following:

  • Block numbers known to be involved in Wangiri fraud.
  • Refrain from returning missed calls from unknown international numbers.

If you miss a call, you can also always leave a voice message asking people to SMS or email you if it is important. If you don’t have any messages, and it’s just the missed call, it clearly isn’t anything too important that you need to return the phone call.

The network provider added: “MTN would like to encourage customers to report any numbers they detect to MTN so that MTN can authenticate them and block them on our network.”

*Vodacom had not provided commentary at the time of publication.

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