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Security & privacy

One ring and then they hung up? It’s a sneaky scam that could cost you

An old phone scam is making a serious comeback. It happens in the middle of the night and your smartphone 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 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. Tap or click here to find out how Facebook just opened the door for more robocalls.

If you call the unknown number back, you could end up with a bunch of charges on your phone bill that can really add up. Keep reading to find out how this scam works and ways to avoid excessive charges.

Here’s the backstory

With this scam, 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. When you call, you’re transferred to an expensive toll number where costs mount by the minute.

When this scam originally hit the scene a couple of years ago it was mainly hitting consumers on the East Coast. But there have been reports of more scam calls throughout the U.S. recently.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has dealt with so many of these cases that it’s dubbed them “One Ring.” But as the FCC points out, most “One Ring” scams 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 U.S., 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 originates from Mauritania in northwest Africa. There is no attempt 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:

  • Know who’s calling – Don’t answer or return any calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Check the area code – Before calling unfamiliar numbers, check to see if the area code is international.
  • Block international calls – If you do not make international calls, ask your phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.
  • Watch for spoofed numbers – Always be cautious, even if a number appears authentic.

If you are billed for a call you made due to this scam, the FCC advises you to try to work with your mobile phone carrier first.

AT&T and T-Mobile said people caught in this scam should call their consumer helplines to try to solve the matter. If you cannot resolve the matter with your mobile phone provider, you can file a complaint with the FCC here at no cost.

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

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