by Charlton “Chuck” Stanley, Weekend Contributor
This morning, I had been working on another topic when my cell phone rang one time. I looked at the number on the caller ID, which came from 216-206-xxxx. I looked up the number on a internet reverse lookup service. The call “originated” in Euclid, OH. Except it didn’t. If I had called that number back, my call would have been re-directed to an offshore number, most likely in a Caribbean country.
So far, in the past week, I have received at least a half-dozen such calls. I did not think to write all the numbers down before deleting them from my phone.
There are several online forums devoted to discussing this and other similar telephone scams. It is a variation on an old scam, but has seen a sudden re-emergence in the past few weeks as technology becomes more sophisticated. When you call the “one-ring” number back, you may be placed on hold and told your call will go through momentarily. If you have not hung up by this time, you will be connected to either a sales pitch or a telephone porn site. They will try to run up as many minutes as possible before you catch on and hang up. Those minutes will be at an international rate, plus a tacked on “service charge” for their “service.” Some of these calls can run up big bucks on your phone bill. You can count on a minimum charge of about $20 USD. That is for the international connection, then an additional $9 for each minute you are on the line. Some of these charges have run into hundreds of dollars added to phone bills.
State Attorney Generals, consumer protection services, the FBI, the FCC, and the phone companies are all aware of this scam. The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning. Because the calls actually originate from operations offshore, they are beyond the reach of the US legal system. Additionally, it does not take a big operation with lots of callers in a boiler room. One person with the right computer equipment can make thousands of such calls a day, or even an hour.
The easiest way to combat this scam is to not answer any one-ring calls. If it was important, the caller would have left a voicemail message. The caller’s robocalling machine is set to ring your phone just long enough for the caller ID to register the calling number, then cut off the call.
Everyone should check their phone bill carefully. Our service provider stopped sending itemized statements because they were becoming so bulky. I can access my phone bills online at their website. It pays to to check the bill every month. If there are unauthorized or unknown charges, take it to the phone company and try to have it removed. If you request the removal of a charge, it is a good idea to file a police report with local law enforcement. That creates a paper record; besides, some phone companies require a police report in order to take charges off your bill.
Some of these calls may come from your local area code. That is done in an effort to make people think it is a local call.
If you get a one-ring call from any number you do not recognize, there are two things to do. Type the number into Google. The search results may tell you it is somebody you know, or you may find forums complaining about the number. If Google does not recognize the number, and you don’t either, then don’t call. If it is important they will call back.
There are a number of news reports online. This one is from WBAL-TV 11 in Baltimore:
There is another way an unsuspecting homeowner or renter can be victimized by their own telephone.
In 1996, when we moved from Mississippi to Tennessee, we rented a house in Tennessee while waiting to sell our home in Mississippi. When the house sold, we went back to close the sale and get our stuff moved. We were gone about two weeks with no one home.
When I got my home phone bill that month, there were $1,600 worth of charges to telephone sex/porn numbers. All the calls had been made during the days when no one was home. I checked all the doors and windows, and everything was locked. I went down to the phone company office (that was a time when they actually had a local office) and was told the charges could be removed, but I had to file a police report first. I met with a detective at the police department who told me something I did not know. On the outside of the house, there is a telephone service box. It is a simple grey box with a hinged door. It looks a bit like a small electrical fuse box. Open the door and behold, there is a phone jack! Our service box was in a location on the wooded side that neighbors could not see. The detective told me that anyone with a cheap land line phone from Walmart could plug into that jack and use my house phone to make and receive calls–from outside the house. He suspected older teenage males, but considering the weather and texture of the plastic box surface, fingerprinting was out of the question. He suggested I get a lock for the box, which had a hole in it for a padlock. I took the completed police report to the phone company, and the charges were deleted. However, the person at the phone company told me that was a one-time deal, and if it happened again, I would be stuck with the charges.
That was in 1996. I have no idea what the policy is now. I did get a padlock for the box. There were no additional unauthorized charges.
Have any of our readers been victimized by telephone scams. If so, what happened and how did you deal with it? Does anyone have any suggestions for potential victims that were not addressed in this article?