It happened to me last night—five calls, all from West Africa, only one ring each.
The Federal Communications Commission issued a warning about this type of scam call on Friday. According to the alert, if you are called several times in a row, with only one ring each call—then whoever is behind the calls is probably trying to get you to call the number back.
If you were to return the call, a person or a recording might answer, in an effort to keep you on the phone. And as you try to make sense of the call, you’d be taking on expensive toll charges, much like if you were to call a 900 number. But you probably wouldn’t know until you got the phone bill. The per-minute rate of making the call would depend on your carrier, your location, and how long you spend on the line.
This specific type of scam call is known as “one ring” or “Wangiri,” Japanese for one telephone ring, and it’s one iteration of international revenue share fraud.
“International revenue share fraud is when fraudsters intentionally drive phone calls to premium rate phone numbers,” Tim Prugar, vice president of fraud-detection company Next Caller told the New York Times. “These fraudsters get a kickback from the call.”
A report from robocall monitoring and blocking service YouMail estimates there were 4.9 billion robocalls made to U.S. residents in April.
According to the FCC, recent reports show a surge in these one-ring scam calls happening in recent days in Arizona and New York, largely coming from a “222" country code, which belongs to Mauritania, Africa. My one-ring calls last night came from “232,” the country code for Sierra Leone.
Scammers can use software to spoof phone numbers and cheaply blast many phones in one area with robocalls. Prugar told the Times that perhaps one percent of robocalls lead to someone calling back—but if an operation can cheaply make 100 million calls, that would then bring in 1 million hits.
The FCC has asked targets of this type of scam to file a complaint with the agency.