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Security & privacy

Avoid a new phone scam from Africa

A new phone scam is a real eye-opener. It’s the middle of the night and your mobile phone rings just once. You wake up and your heart is pounding because calls in the dead of night usually mean bad news. You grab your phone and see a phone number from the African nation of Mauritania. Or you just see a number you can’t recognize.

Many of us are savvy enough to know the call came from a scammer, but there are still people out there who will call back out of curiosity or concern.

If you’re one of these people, here’s some simple advice: don’t call back.

If you do, you could end up with a number of charges on your phone bill that can really add up.

How the scam works

Your phone will only ring once. If you call back, you will incur an international call charge from your carrier for every minute you stay on the line.

And the scammers know how to keep you on the line. Immediately after you call you’re transferred to an expensive toll number where costs mount by the minute.

The scam seems to be mainly hitting consumers on the East Coast, but there have been reports of calls throughout the country.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has dealt with so many of these cases that they’ve dubbed them “One Ring.” But as the FCC points out, the majority of “One Ring” scams mostly originate in the Caribbean, where the international code is a three-digit number followed by the usual seven numbers. That’s enough to convince consumers the calls are coming from the U.S.

“One-ring calls may appear to be from phone numbers somewhere in the United States, including three initial digits that resemble U.S. area codes,” according to the FCC’s website. “But savvy scammers often use international numbers from regions that also begin with three-digit codes – for example, ‘649‘ goes to the Turks and Caicos and ‘809‘ goes to the Dominican Republic.”

What makes this recent “One Ring” scam so different is that it is originating from Mauritania in northwest Africa. There is no attempt to even try to make the phone numbers seem like they are from the U.S.


Related: Do this one thing to protect yourself from phone porting scams.


How to avoid ‘One Ring’ scams

The FCC offers this advice to avoid scammers:

  1. Don’t answer or return any calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  2. Before calling unfamiliar numbers, check to see if the area code is international.
  3. If you do not make international calls, ask your phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.
  4. Always be cautious, even if a number appears authentic.

If you are billed for a call you made as a result of this scam, the FCC advises you to try to deal with your mobile phone carrier first.

AT&T and T-Mobile said people caught in this scam should call their consumer help lines to try to solve the matter. We also reached out to Verizon and Sprint to see how they would help their customers, but have yet to hear back from them.

If you cannot resolve the matter with your mobile phone provider, you can file a complaint with the FCC at no cost.

You also can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission if you feel that you are a victim of an international phone scam.

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