Ever have a strange phone number ring once, possibly even in the middle of the night? Resist the urge to phone back: You may be a potential victim of a one ring phone scam.
What is the one-ring—or ‘wangiri’—scam?
The one-ring scam call is when someone calls you once and then hangs up the phone, hoping you will call back. The one-ring scam is also sometimes called the “wangiri scam,” which translates to “one ring and cut” in Japanese.
This isn’t a new scam, but incidents are on the rise. A recent Federal Communications Commission press release warns consumers that there’s been “waves of ‘one-ring’ or ‘wangiri’ scam robocalls targeting specific area codes in bursts, often calling multiple times in the middle of the night.”
Consumers in Arizona and New York state report receiving calls from a 222 country code (which, on first view, resembles a typical three-digit U.S. area code), but actually originates from Mauritania in West Africa. However, scammers may also use numbers from the U.S., and they may even use phone-spoofing techniques to mask their identity and appear to be from a local call.
Related: What is neighbor spoofing?
How the one-ring scam works
Say you get several robocalls that hang up on the first ring—where’s the scam? The goal is to pique your interest and get you to call back. If you call back, you get charged for the time you spend on the call at exorbitant rates.
“Think of it like a 1-900 number or a premium service number,” said Brian Young, public policy manager at the National Consumers League, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. After you call back, fraudsters use different strategies to keep you on the phone.
For example, the person could tell you that a friend sent you a song, and the name of the friend will be revealed after the song plays. “They will replay that song for 15 minutes before the consumer finally hangs up, and then they get slammed with this mammoth bill,” said Young, who is based in Washington, D.C. In other instances, consumers report receiving delivery instructions for a scheduled package. Scammers may even claim they’re notifying you of a sick relative.
When consumers return missed calls, they often think they’re calling a domestic number because fraudsters use numbers with country codes that resemble the U.S., such as the 222 country code for Mauritania. “In reality, [consumers are] calling somewhere in the Bahamas or really far away, so they’re getting hit with per-minute charges and long-distance charges,” said Young.
How to protect yourself against the one-ring scam
Being aware of the one-ring phone scam is the first step to protecting yourself and loved ones against such tactics. Here are a few other actions to take if you receive many suspicious missed calls:
Do not call back
If you’re not familiar with a number, resist the urge to call back. If you’re curious, wait for a voice message and make sure it’s someone you recognize before returning the call.
Your mobile device or telephone company may allow you to block numbers. Block numbers you suspect are one-ring scam calls.
Report the numbers
Reporting these calls to the Federal Trade Commission can help warn and educate other consumers.
Contact your telephone company
If you fall victim to this scam, telephone companies could offer help on a case-by-case basis. “You may be able to work out a deal with them to forgive part of the fee,” said Young.
Consider reverse phone number lookup services
You may be able to use a reverse phone number lookup service to help try and identify unknown callers. A reverse lookup could help you find the name, address and email address of the person who’s calling you.
One-ring scams attempt to trigger your curiosity. Who wouldn’t be curious after getting several missed calls from an unknown number?
Your first concern may be that someone’s calling you about a serious emergency, which is how they trick you into answering. Remember this: If there were an actual emergency, the caller would likely ring more than once and leave a detailed message.
The phone charges from this scam may be easily missed if you don’t review your bill carefully. Look through your telephone bill if you believe you may have fallen victim to this scam. To protect yourself moving forward, check your caller ID before picking up, and use caution when answering numbers you don’t recognize.