Online and wireless scams can be dangerous to unsuspecting consumers, so it’s important to know what to be on the lookout for, and what to do if you believe you’ve been scammed. The list below is not comprehensive, but includes many schemes that have been perpetrated on wireless consumers.
The ‘Missed Call’ Scheme: A New Twist on an Old Scam
This involves scammers calling a customer’s phone, letting it ring and then hanging up or sometimes leaving a voicemail. The number appears as a missed call and is typically a three-digit area code that looks like a U.S. number, but it’s actually an international number (e.g., 809 = Dominican Republic, 876 = Jamaica, 284 = British Virgin Islands, and so on). When you call back, you’re automatically routed to an international adult entertainment or chat line in a non-U.S. location, where you can quickly incur expensive charges. While major wireless companies work very hard to block suspicious numbers on their networks, and most have consumer education systems in place to identify and combat these threats, these scams originate outside the reach of U.S. regulators and wireless providers.
Unknown or Unsolicited Text Message Scam
This scheme is called ‘SMiShing’, which is a combination of ‘Short Message Service’ (SMS) text messaging and email ‘Phishing’. It begins when you receive what appears to be a legitimate text message, but from an unknown number. If you respond, you could place yourself at risk for identity or information theft at the hands of crafty cyber thieves. This simple bait-and-hook fraud allows crooks to use auto-dialing or roll-texting computer programs to text you. The message tells you to click a link or call the number back (the bait). It’s often based on urgent action, such as “NOTICE! Hurry, your credit card has been suspended. Go to this link for help!” It might look like it’s from a trusted source such as your bank, but if you visit the website (the hook), you’ve unwittingly given the criminals access to your device. They can attach dangerous spyware, malware, viruses, or spam that gives them control of it and instant access to your personal data.
Help from Regulatory Agencies, Consumer Groups and Carriers: Tracking Scams
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has consumer advisories on international and text message scams.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides information on phone scams and spam.
- The National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) say these scams can potentially cost victims lots of money, and continue to monitor these illicit activities.
- All major U.S. wireless companies invest substantial resources developing and implementing spam blocking technologies so you can safely use your device with your personal and financial data secure.
What You Can Do
- Always check the area code before returning a missed call to ANY unknown caller.
- Be skeptical of area codes you don’t recognize.
- Be aware that there are numerous three-digit area codes (mostly in the non-U.S. Caribbean Islands) that connect callers to an international phone number.
- Don’t respond to text messages or calls from unknown sources—delete them immediately.
- If you don’t regularly make international calls, ask your wireless carrier to block international calling.
- If you believe you’ve been a victim of a scam like this, contact your carrier immediately.
- You should also file a complaint with the FCC and/or FTC, and report the activity to the NFIC and BBB to help save other consumers from becoming wireless call/text scam victims.