NAIROBI, KENYA: International calling scams start with a simply transnational phone call that instinctively disconnects before the owner of the phone could receive it.
The calls that mainly originate from countries like Burundi (+257), Malawi (+265), Pakistan (+92), Russia (+7), Nigeria (+234), Tunisia (+216), Belarus (+375) often ring for less than three seconds before disconnecting.
These missed calls are meant to create an impression that the owner of the phone has just missed an important international, which in response, should be returned as soon as possible. "You will think that you missed an important call from a foreign country! "It must be important!" That's how a lot of people think," explains Lalit Kumar who is the founder of TechWelkin.
On phoning back, the call will either be put on a voicemail or waiting mode as minutes count and credit units are deducted by milliseconds. The scam phone numbers ascribe to higher call charges as they are subscribed under Pay-Per-Call (PPC) services.
Unlike Fee-For-Service (FFS) which is a payment model where individual caller incurs the cost of marking calls to particular phone numbers, Pay-Per-Call payment model transfers the cost of calls to designated phone numbers that will return calls.
Scammers have been hiring International Premium Rate Numbers (IPRN) from foreign phone companies, which they use to ring random phone numbers across the world.
"Usually, nobody will talk to you from the other side and you will keep on saying something like "hello, hello, hello, is anybody there? Eventually, receiving no answer, you will get frustrated and hit the disconnect button on your mobile phone," Lalit Kumar explained. However, by then you would have lost quite a good amount of money.
Inadvertently, one may try to call the same number several times before giving up. The scammers also use software that automate the calling and disconnection of the phone calls, and then redirects the call to other very expensive line that offers adult content to interested clients.
Scammers also use Social Networks such as WhatsApp, Email or text messaging to leave 'curious' messages like, "please urgently call back" on given (fraud) phone numbers. "Apparently, these scammers get their commission from the phone companies whose premium rate number they use to trick you. They may get up to $1 (Sh101) for every incoming call," Lalit Kumar explained.
The following are means and ways that mobile phone subscribers can use to avoid getting scammed by international fraudsters:
Do not pick any call that is coming from other countries where the phone number remains unrecognised.
Give special attention to international calls from African, Middle East and former USSR countries.
If you're unsure about the origin of call, you should look up for the country code in Google. The search will tell you the country of origin.
Use mobile apps like TrueCaller to identify unknown numbers. You can use various call blocking apps to block a particular number. If the scammer is using different numbers, you can also block an entire country code.