The consumer watchdog is warning mobile phone users to avoid returning unexpected calls from overseas numbers as a wangiri scam returns to our shores.
Its latest victim was a 10-year-old Brisbane boy who was bombarded by missed calls from a number starting with +247.
Leo Carrington told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Craig Zonca and Rebecca Levingston that he was doing homework after school when he received a number of suspicious missed calls.
His phone listed the number’s location as Ascension Island off the west coast of Africa.
He initially ignored them but more missed call notifications rolled in overnight.
His parents, confused about why their young son had received so many international calls on his week-old Optus phone, called the number back.
Leo said his father was connected with a woman who did not speak English and would not answer his questions.
The Carrington family still does not know how much money the call cost them.
Call back at your own risk
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair Delia Rickard said Scamwatch received 50,000 reports of similar scams last year, but only three involved phone calls from Ascension Island.
She said it was likely the Carrington family were victims of a wangiri scam, a Japanese word loosely translated to “one cut”.
“What typically happens is the scammer calls for just one ring then cuts the line leaving a missed call on the victim’s phone,” she said.
“Then the victim calls the number back and they could be put on hold, have music playing or they could try and chat.
Ms Rickard said scammers made their money by enticing people to call back a premium number similar to those used by psychic hotlines and sex lines.
“There’s a complicated billing structure but people are charged more when they’re communicating over these numbers and the money makes its way back to the scammer,” she said.
Australians lost $48,830 to premium service scam calls and texts in the past 12 months.
To avoid extra charges on your phone bill, Ms Rickard recommended ignoring calls from country codes you don’t recognise and from 19 or 1900 numbers in Australia.
“That’s an indication that it’s a premium number and it’s going to cost you extra to be calling that number.”
Blocking problematic phone numbers and not returning missed calls from unknown numbers can help you avoid becoming a victim.
“The other thing that we know in the past about premium services is sometimes if you call your mobile provider and tell them what’s happened, you won’t end up having to pay the charge,” Ms Rickard said.
“Some mobile providers are prepared to do that, so it’s worth a try if you want your money back.”
How do scammers get your number?
Leo’s SIM card had only been active for one week before he was targeted.
Ms Rickard said he might have been unlucky enough to have his phone number randomly generated, but plenty of victims were targeted because they had offered their information freely while signing up for apps or entering contests.
“We’re asked to fill in surveys to all sorts of things online these days, and in way too many instances that information is collated and sold off,” she said.
“Once you have returned a scam call … scammers will sell contact details for people who they think might be susceptible to scams.”
The ACCC encourages victims to report their experiences to its Scamwatch website.
“That way we know the scams that are doing the rounds, we can warn others to help them avoid it, and sometimes we can work with financial intermediaries to stop money from going offshore,” Ms Rickard said.