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Have you been targeted by the ‘Wangiri’ phone scam?

Are you one of thousands of people to have received a call from a random, international number in recent months? You may have been the target of an international scam. Our guest, John Mitchison from the DMA, explains more…

Wangiri (which means ‘one ring and cut’ in Japan, from where the scam first originated) involves fraudsters dialling from an overseas number then immediately disconnecting the call after one or two rings. The target will often then ring back, typically after observing their phone has multiple missed calls from the same or similar numbers.

Victims that do return the call are redirected through an International Premium Rate service, which can cost a fortune for every minute that the call is connected. In the past, Ofcom have warned about the scam after a spate of cases but more can be done to help.

Fraudsters are utilising technology to assist with Wangiri scams by using automated systems to continuously dial multiple mobile numbers at a rate of up to 3,000 numbers a minute.

However, there are apps and services out there that can help. As long as people remain vigilant and know what to look out for, they can then take proactive steps to identify and report suspected scammers to these services.

What should you look out for?

The first thing is to look for patterns in the numbers calling you. Sometimes these numbers will be similar but slightly different; this could indicate a bank of automated machines making random calls.

Second, avoid numbers with +269 (Comoros), +231 (Liberia), +216 (Tunisia), +674 (Nauru), +222 (Mauritania), +235 (Chad) and +682 (Cook Islands), and prefixes that you don’t recognise.

Third, avoid calls from international numbers at unusual times – this could be scammers not accounting for time differences or trying to catch people off guard, perhaps when they have been asleep.

Fourth, a number that you don’t have saved or a number from a country that you don’t recognise as a location that a friend or relative is visiting – expatriates can often be targeted due to their international connections.

And lastly, multiple calls without a voicemail, message or email. Companies or relatives with genuine intent will leave a message for you if you miss their call.

How to protect yourself from scammers

It may sound obvious to many, but the best protection for when you receive an unknown phone call, and you’re not expecting it, is just don’t call back.

Many UK phone operators offer their consumers free calls to the EU and certain non-EU locations as part of your bundle, but this doesn’t mean to say this isn’t a premium number that will charge exorbitant fees once connected.

If you receive a call and you are unsure, perhaps look up the number on the Internet to check for reports of scams from that number. This scam is a telecoms industry-wide problem and is not specific to the UK and so the internet can be a useful ally.

Report it

Individually blocking offending numbers and services on landlines and mobile phones is a useful method, but not everyone has the time or patience to keep doing this – especially when consumers change phone-service providers or the offenders’ just change their numbers.

These days, nuisance calls and scams are becoming more of an issue on mobile phones, but there are apps out there that can help.

TPS Protect is an app available on Android/iOS designed to help block, identify and report incoming untrustworthy calls.

The free version allows users to register with the TPS and file complaints, join a growing community of those that complain about nuisance callers and scammers to enable regulators to take action, but most importantly, TPS Protect provides protection to users by identifying incoming scam and nuisance calls.

It is essential to the empowerment of services like the TPS that people not only register but complain about every nuisance call and potential scam they receive. The more people who do, the greater number of organisations that will be held accountable to the laws in place to protect consumers.

Complaints to the TPS are passed onto the relevant body, like Action Fraud or the Information Commissioner’s Office. It’s only with complaint information that these bodies can investigate and potentially fine companies or even prosecute those that are breaking the rules.

Do you have any advice for victims receiving calls from scammers? Or have you experienced the Wangiri scam first hand?

This is a guest post by Jon Mitchison. All views expressed here are Jon’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

Comments

I get landline calls from “International” every few days that terminate when I pick up (I do pick up because we have family abroad). I usually check other unknown numbers that disconnect by putting them in to Google and that often shows they are opportunist numbers.

The intro says “Some of these calls remain connected – even once the unsuspecting person hangs up”. I understood that landline exchanges now automatically disconnect in 2 or 3 seconds after the recipient has hung up. Is that not always the case?

Incidentally, who is Emily? (“All views expressed here are Emily’s).

anthony howe says:
10 May 2018

If someone really needs to talk to you they will leave a voicemail. Just ignore all missed calls from numbers you dont know, but check your voicemail. If nothing there, just get on with your life. Do not waste your time on all the other suggestions made in the article.
However, I do find the TPS app useful to alert to possible scam numbers, but it does give false indications some times.

Thankfully I now receive few nuisance calls on my landline and have never had a problem with the mobile. Had this not happened I would have stopped using the landline.

I assume that all calls are scams or unwanted marketing. If I do get a call from a company that I am a customer of, I say that I will look up the number and ring back in case the call is not genuine. I have not experienced the Wangiri scam but I don’t call back numbers unless they are familiar. As Anthony has said, anyone who urgently wants to make contact will leave a message.

I would like to see marketing calls banned and it is DISGRACEFUL that we are expected to ‘opt-out’ via the Telephone Preference Service. For years I have boycotted companies that pester me by phone or email and after receiving four calls from a local company that sells double glazing recently I said that I was interested in but that their company would not receive any business from me.

Patrick Taylor says:
10 May 2018

Please can the author or Which? promptly get a fuller answer on the disconnection problem?

@oscarwebb, following Patricks comment, from a 2015 news report (BBC) :“BT has finished upgrading its exchanges as part of efforts to stop scammers exploiting telephone lines which are held open……….
Now when a person hangs up, an incoming call to a BT line should disconnect within two seconds.
Regulator Ofcom says similar changes have been made to most of the UK’s other major phone networks.

This is what I understood, hence my question in https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/new-international-scam-wangiri/#comment-1530677

Hi Malcolm and Patrick,

The DMA have said: “the line Some of these calls remain connected – even once the unsuspecting person hangs up – resulting in even more charges was mentioned more in relation to overseas mobile phone operators – so not necessarily an issue for the UK audience. As mentioned by commentators, measures have been implemented here to help.”

The article has been edited accordingly.

Thanks for flagging,

Oscar

Once again the scammers have thwarted what hitherto was a useful feature – being able to hang up an incoming caller asking them to hold on while the call recipient legs it to a more private location to pick up a different extension.

@oscarwebb, thanks Oscar!

Gina says:
11 May 2018

I received a call from a mobile with 12 digits very unusual – didn’t return call & blocked on my mobile. So far I’m on 55 blocked numbers. I feel this is from registering onto online retailers who ask for a mobile number- I feel email address should be sufficient as they can email you when goods have been dispatched etc

I never leave my mobile number with any retailer. If a landline is not sufficient, they can do without my business. Or I repeat my landline number; that seems to work in most cases.

I must admit the main reason I don’t is that my mobile is pretty permanently switched off. I only use it when we go out to call for a taxi…

I don’t have a smartphone, though I can see the writing on the wall.

John says:
11 May 2018

Most of the international calls we get are TalkTalk related – thanks to that company’s data breach. They know the phone number, address and name. The one thing they don’t have is an up to date account number because the database they’re using is a few years old.

It’s fun to play games with them but you do have to remember that they have all your personal details and can do a fair bit of damage with that if they choose to.

There’s no point whatever in reporting these calls – they’re not from the UK, though they spoof UK numbers, including a genuine TalkTalk number, and they’re untraceable calls.

Hazel says:
18 August 2018

I kept getting calls from different numbers in Tunisia. As I don’t know anyone in Tunisia or who has been there, I never answer them, nor do I ring them back. These days it’s really good to have a naturally suspicious nature

Jonathan says:
18 August 2018

Wangiri calls also can come from +252 (Somalia) numbers.

Eva White says:
11 September 2018

I have received several calls with no speaking for a minute and says Goodbye
Yesterday at 8.30 am 01395519884
Today again 9.10 am 01329236904 – goodbye

Almeida says:
19 March 2019

I got a lost call today from a 004 number, so I thought it wasa UK number. Then I got a second lost call from a similar number so I called back and on the other end there was a lady speaking something like arabic, so I hang up. Then I got another call and I texted this time to see if the person would call me back or answer the text. After that I got calls from similar numbers, so I checked on Google…it was a 0041 which is Switzerland. That is an EU number, I have an uncle who lives there, so even if I would have identified the number as not being a UK number I would probably had fallen for it because it is an EU number. I kept getting calls from the same type, so I googled more and came up the scam phone calls wangiri. What shall one do after having called back? I did contact my mobile phone operator with the matter. But is there anything else that one must do? I don’t even know how did they get my number. It is frustrating. If it was from unknow places…but numbers from the EU, and a 0041 is very similar to the UK 0044.

Repron says:
4 April 2019

Does it work when yo u pick it up ?? Because I got a call and it was late night so I panicked and pick it up.