One-Ring Phone Scam: When not to return a call

by Charlton “Chuck” Stanley, Weekend Contributor

Image by the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department Murphy, NC  Keith Lovin, Sheriff
Image by the
Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department
Murphy, NC

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?

18 thoughts on “One-Ring Phone Scam: When not to return a call”

  1. Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished
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  2. Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a totally different topic but it has pretty much the
    same page layout and design. Outstanding choice of colors!

  3. It is possible, actually rather easy, to have your landline telephone’s class of service set to block 900 / 976 area codes. I think it is a prudent measure to do with any landline for the reasons Chuck describes in others trespassing on your circuit.

    I don’t know if this is possible with cell phones but I imagine it is required by regulations. It would also be nice if cell phone carriers provided an option for a lockout in the subscriber’s class of service for any toll related phone call. I don’t keep up with cellphone issues lately as I ditched mine in favor of peace and tranquility.

  4. RE: Charlton Stanley, on 1, February 15, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    As I now recall, prior to the Carterphone decision, telephone (wiring, apparatus, lightning arresters, and such) equipment in a subscriber’s location was leased or rented telephone company property. To connect “foreign” apparatus to the telephone network required a protective network interface unit (telephone company property) which provided a customer access connectivity; one such interface was designated, as recall now, “RDMZR”…

    Because customer premises wiring is customer property, the usually-outdoor network interface box typically has a customer side, which contains the connections to the customer premises wiring, and an RJ11 style jack and plug on a “pigtail” so a sufficiently competent customer can isolate premises wiring from the telephone network without needing to pay a telephone company to dispatch a telephone company employee to provide customer access to the network interface (or demarcation).

    For an attacker to have a good chance to prevail against a defender, the attacker need only invent an attack which the defender has not successfully anticipated. This gives to attackers a sometimey profound tactical advantage; the defender, to have a successful defense, has to develop an effective defense against all possible attacks, whereas the attacker need develop only one undefended method of attack.

    Could that be a motive for defense based on preemptive attack? Can a preemptive attack, if successful, be anything other than one which the defender did not successfully anticipate? If so, who is the attacker and who is the defender?

    Is there really any achievable alternative to dishonesty except, to borrow a term from a book in my dad’s minister’s library that I read while in high school, (in Alcoholics Anonymous, New and Revised Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., New York, 1955, page 58), “…a way of living which demands rigorous honesty.”

    Can there ever be a way of actual safety for people that is other than a way of living which is rigorously honest?

    If the network interface is locked by the telephone company, then the subscriber cannot isolate all of the premises wiring from the telephone network to determine whether a telephone problem belongs to the telephone company or to the subscriber…

    Dishonesty or deception, resolved through using ever increasing dishonesty or deception, is nonetheless dishonesty or deception?

    Is there any possible long-term value for dishonesty or deception other than learning to understand dishonesty and deception well enough to successfully avoid them?

  5. When my landlines gone down, customer service always asks me to plug a phone n2 the ‘outside access port’ to determine whether the wiring problem is on my end or theirs, otherwise, I’d fill it w/ caulk

  6. Some VoiP adapters implement T.38 standard which is supposed to allow reliable FAX over VoiP – even when used with plain ordinary telephone system FAX machines.

    Apparently the problem addressed by T.38 relates to the fact that FAX machines normally require a real time analogue connection while VoiP sends data in packets which can lead to lost data and jitter in the signal which can cause the FAX connection to drop.

    I have no experience with FAX or how satisfied users are with their FAX over VoiP. But the T.38 adapters are only a few dollars more than plain VoiP adapters which work fine for ordinary voice calls. Any one considering FAX over VoiP might want to Google to check user satisfaction with T.38 devices.

    Anyone considering switching to VoiP ought to take the time to learn how emergency 911 calls are handled with VoiP. The cost savings of VoiP in comparison to land line can be compelling.

  7. Charlton Stanley

    You still need a land line for a fax to work, and if you have a land line or DSL, there will be an outside access port somewhere. If you live in an apartment, it is probably in a utility closet somewhere.
    Actually, you can fax with voip only. With cable, I disconnected the outside phone line at the jack it was connected to inside (important unless you want a fire in your walls, you can’t be certain that the phone company turned the line off completely), then plugged the voip adapter into a phone outlet. That activates all the outlets in the chain. Just plug the fax machine, or the phone line from a computer fax modem, into any connected outlet. Worked fine with cable.

    With dsl, I had to plug the phone line from the computer fax modem (I had long since used microsoft fax instead of an actual fax machine) directly into the voip adaper since the phone lines were already being used for dsl.

    For the last several years I have just used one of the free online fax services that don’t require a fax machine or a fax modem. The fee based services have a lot more options.

    In my case, the outside access point in my condo is in a locked room.

    Now that I know about the outside phone box, if I buy a house I’ll make sure the box can be relocated inside before I sign the contract.

  8. Simms,
    I read somewhere that land line home phones are slowly disappearing as people go almost exclusively to cell phones.

    You still need a land line for a fax to work, and if you have a land line or DSL, there will be an outside access port somewhere. If you live in an apartment, it is probably in a utility closet somewhere.

  9. pete,
    I found out at the time why that box was out there. It is reasonable for them to be able to access the phone line when the resident is not home, but seems to me the phone company should be responsible for locking them.

  10. It could be more than meets the eye sometimes:

    An unnamed US law firm was caught up in surveillance involving the National Security Agency and its Australian counterpart [one of The Five Eyes], according to a report released on Saturday.

    The New York Times reported that a top-secret document obtained by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed the firm was monitored “while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the US”.

    According to the Times, the government of Indonesia retained the law firm for trade talks which were under surveillance by the Australian Signals Directorate. The Australian agency offered to share information with the NSA.

    (Guardian, links removed).

  11. Chuck, I had virtually the same thing happen to me in the 90’s. Matter of fact, almost the entire neighborhood had this happen one month. Eventually, the charges were dropped, but it took months and months of fighting with Ma Bell. They finally decided that something was wrong when they realized that only three or four houses in our subdivision didn’t have the outlandish charges.

  12. Also, if you have cable or dsl at home you can get voip service for a fraction of the cost of a landline. I keep my network secure and haven’t had any security problems with voip in over ten years of use.

    That outside box, which I don’t have, would concern me. I would remove the jack so that any miscreants would have to work a little harder. Or put a realistic rubber rattlesnake in the box.

  13. O S

    the phone jack in the box outside is there to check if any problems are in the incoming line or your household wiring.

  14. Since I rarely make international calls, I just leave international dialing turned off on my phone. It takes ten seconds to turn it on if I need it. I’m not sure if all phones have this feature.

    I also use a prepaid provider, so the only thing I can lose in a scam is my remaining voice, text and data allowances for the month plus the ~10 dollar cash balance I keep in case I run out of data early. (I usually have plenty of left over voice minutes and texts.)

    I’m also anti-social and only answer calls from numbers I recognize. As several of you said, if it’s important they’ll leave a message…or send a text.

  15. Why is the phone company allowing these scam artists to bill them? Why are they paying them and charging you? They are just as complicit in this as the scam artists. You only get charged through the phone company. This is the same with bank charges and other charges that when you fight to get them removed the institution removes them, which an admission that they should not have been charged in the first place. It’s simply ‘what the market will bear’ or what one can get away with, like when a lawyer sits down and works on a bill.

  16. Interesting and thanks for the PSA…..raff, I only knew about the box was because every time it rained we got static on the line…..

  17. Chuck,
    Whenever I get a call from a number I don’t recognize, udon ‘to answer it. If it is a valid caller, they will leaves message. I sometimes answer calls for numbers
    I think might be a client, but when I hear the pause I hang up. I was not aware of the outside box having a phone jack.

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