Think before you ring back after missing a call from an unidentified number to your cellphone. It could have been from a racket and a call-back would come at a premium rate, sometimes as high as 200 a minute.
A part of the amount you pay will be deposited in the accounts of the fraudsters. The hi-tech telecommunication technology that was developed mainly for public services has turned into an easy money-making device for fraudsters.
This is how it works. The scammers hire a premium-rate number from a telecom provider and then give missed calls to unsuspecting people. As the latter call back, they pay a higher charge and a part of the money goes to the account of the scammer who hires the premium number. The fraud, which started nearly a decade ago in Europe and western countries, has hit India, including Kolkata, from the beginning of the year. It is also known as the 'Wangiri Fraud' and originated in Japan in early-2000. 'Wangiri' literally means 'one ring and cut'.
Over the past week, several Kolkatans have received missed calls from numbers that start with +22455. Among them is a university student. "Apparently, it looks like a Mumbai number as the city's STD code is 22. I have several friends in Mumbai and the call came late on January 1. Without any suspicion, I called back and the woman who answered said in Hindi that the number belonged to a Mumbai-based cellphone company. She started telling me that my cellphone number was among the lucky winners of a draw and I would be awarded a cellphone by the company. She also asked for my address," said the student. He claimed the woman spoke for around eight minutes and when the call ended, he realized that he had been charged 400 for it.
The student is not alone. Several others have received missed calls from similar numbers that start with +22455 and were charged 50 to 100 or even 200 per minute for the call back. Cellphone service providers in the city fear that the number of victims may be in the thousands.
Clueless subscribers called up their cellphone service providers who clarified that the call had been made to international premium-rate numbers and the best way to avert such fraud was to not call back to these numbers. Probe revealed that some fraudsters sitting abroad had been making missed calls to Indian cellphone users randomly with the help of a database. They have hired a few international premium rate numbers (IPRN) which cost little.
The IPRN service providers offer a lucrative rate for their rental services. Premium Telco is such an IPRN provider which offers $.08 for every incoming call to the hired number.
According to telecom experts, such IPRN providers receive 700 to 1,000 calls every day. For police, it's a 'salami fraud' which suggests that the fraudsters are apparently getting a nominal amount, but swindle a hefty sum at the end of the day. A senior city police officer claimed that some people are even getting threat calls. He believes that the calls were routed through a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system. With the Internet Protocol (IP) remaining masked most of the time, it is difficult to trace the country of origin.