Business Technology

Friday 18 October 2019

'Wangiri' phone scam sweeping across Ireland is 'unprecedented' say operators

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Stock photo
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Tens of thousands of scam mobile phone calls are sweeping across Ireland in an “unprecedented” surge, according to Ireland’s operators.

The calls, often with international prefixes such as +231 or +269, are designed to trick people into phoning back at premium rates.

“It would appear that all Irish mobile number ranges have undergone an unprecedented attack from this in recent weeks,” said a spokeswoman for Three, Ireland’s second largest operator.

The scam is known as a ‘wangiri’ call, because the mobile phone typically rings just once or twice.

The scammers hope that people will automatically call back without looking too closely at the number.

“The longer someone stays on the phone the higher the charge will be,” said a spokeswoman for Eir, previously known as Meteor. “This scam is a telecoms industry-wide problem.”

While many of the calls come with prefixes from countries such as Liberia (+231) or the Comoros Islands (+269), some members of the public have reported calls using the Austrian prefix of +43.

“Unfortunately there is no way to identify a scam call number, and they can resemble a very normal, familiar, geographical number that we would come across on a daily basis,” said a spokesman for Comreg, the telecoms watchdog. “Do not call back any number that leaves you a blank voicemail message.”

Some mobile operators are taking action to block the scam numbers from calling any other phones on their network.

“Three blocks these numbers as and when they are identified and this blocks the number from calling Three customers and blocks our customers from returning their call,” said the spokeswoman from Three.

Vodafone is implementing similar blocking measures.

“To protect our customers we implement controls which allow us to stop our customers from calling these numbers back,” said a Vodafone spokeswoman.

The lobby group for mobile companies in Ireland, the Irish Cellular Industry Association, said that the financial damage from Wangiri fraud calls can be significant.

“These tend to be high cost international numbers and they generate revenue for the fraudster,” said a spokeswoman. “If the person does ring back, the fraudster attempts to keep the customer on the phone for as long as they can to generate more revenue and often use recorded messages to prolong the call.”

Operators are advising people not to answer calls with unfamiliar country prefixes.

“We would advise vigilance for any call a customer might receive from an unknown number, particularly an international number,” said a spokeswoman for Vodafone.

Those affected by fraud calls are advised to report them to their mobile operator.

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