Wangiri is a Japanese term – loosely translated as ‘one and cut’ – which refers to a type of missed call scam that has been making the rounds again.
Wangiri takes the form of what’s typically known as an 809 scam, a type of phone fraud which involves tricking people into making overpriced international calls that somehow bypass consumer-protection laws. 809 scams commonly advertise premium content or adult entertainment, and may even go so far as to leave send out messages claiming to be a distant relative in need of help. When you call the number, the scammer will keep you on the line for as long as possible in order to drain you of your funds. In some cases, these exorbitant charges can rack up thousands of Rands to your phone bill in just a matter of seconds. It’s pretty basic, but very effective.
Wangiri, however, makes it even simpler. Scammers will call you from an international number, allow the phone to ring once, and then hang up. The objective here is to target the natural curiosity of human beings, and hope that they call you back.
What’s that old saying about killing the cat?
If curiosity fails, they may even bombard you with constant one-ring missed calls until you finally grow annoyed and call them back.
These calls appear to be coming from all across Africa and Europe, from countries such as France, Guinea, Belgium and even the Caribbean. The equipment used by these criminals is portable, and easy to pack up and move around in a moment’s notice. Criminals may stay in one location for one or two days and then catch a plane to another country before the authorities can catch them.
It provides an easy way for criminals to move money across borders, in what is essentially a sophisticated money laundering scheme.
Though MTN recently warned its customers to be very wary of missed calls from international numbers, this scam has targeted South Africans on every major mobile network.
This is definitely not just a South African problem, and phone fraud has hundreds of variations, all of which affect consumers all around the globe. It’s always important to exercise caution when dealing with the unknown. If there’s a way to scam you, rest assured, the scammers will try it at one point or another.
These short, enigmatic calls are a worldwide epidemic, costing consumers billions each and every year. These fraudsters aren’t just a couple of losers sitting around in a garage somewhere – they operate on an industrial scale, using automated dialling machines to get through a gigantic range of phone numbers, calling thousands every minute. They don’t play around with targeting specific individuals, and blocking the numbers doesn’t really seem to help. A new number pops up a couple of days later.
So, what are the network giants in South Africa doing about it?
In speaking to MyBroadband, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C have warned their customers that they will only be billed if they return the call. There is no danger in answering these calls from international numbers, except, of course, to be wary of whoever is on the other end. Never give out any personal information.
It is unlikely that you will answer these calls in time, as the very purpose is to get you to call back. To be one step ahead, simply don’t call any numbers that you don’t recognise. If it’s important, they will call back and wait for you to answer.
MTN has said that it is monitoring these calls daily, and is suspending as many of the numbers as possible so that customers can’t dial them. The company is also working alongside carrier services and originating operators to clamp down on fraud.
Vodacom, likewise, has been blocking all numbers reported, but can’t stop them fast enough.
It is encouraged for customers to report any suspicious numbers to their mobile operators, regardless. This way, the companies can authenticate and block them, and hopefully track down the cause of the problem.
Wangiri has even begun to pop up over WhatsApp in the last couple of years, with users being sent messages from unknown (often attractive women) sources, urging them to call them back. Upon closer inspection, though, the contact number being sent and the number from which the message originates are not the same. Calling either of them will see you re-routed into phone bill oblivion.
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