What Is Wangiri Fraud/Wangiri Scam?
Wangiri fraud or the Wangiri scam is a type of telephone scam. Fraudsters perpetuating the scam profit from the fees they earn from tricking people into calling premium rate phone numbers.
“Wangiri” is a Japanese word that means “one ring and drop”. The wangiri scam is sometimes referred to as a “missed call scam”. It involves fraudsters calling victims from a premium rate number, but hanging up after just one ring. In turn, victims often phone the number back to see what the call was regarding. As soon as they’re connected, they begin to pay for a premium rate call, with the criminals pocketing the related fees.
This type of “one ring scam” is a form of social engineering. It relies on human nature. Victims become concerned or curious about who has called them, and therefore feel compelled to call the premium rate number back as a result.
Wangiri fraud is big business for fraudsters. Telephone companies across the world lose over $1.8 billion to wangiri fraud (telecommunication fraud) each year.
How Does Wangiri Scams Work?
A typical wangiri fraud scam works as follows.
1. A fraudster calls a phone number, ensuring that their caller ID shows up as a premium rate number that they’re in control of – and one where they profit from the premium rate fees.
2. The fraudster ensures that the call only rings once or twice, which generally results in it not being answered by the recipient, and instead shows as a missed call on their phone.
3. When the victim sees the missed call, they are curious or worried, so they phone it back. This initiates a premium rate call – which the fraudsters profit from.
4. Fraudsters use various techniques to keep victims on the premium rate call for as long as possible. They may use recorded messages, or even have people manning the lines to keep people talking. The premium rate fees – and therefore the fraudster’s profits) increase based on how long victims stay on the line.
The above is often done at scale, using auto diallers and other methods that don’t require the fraudster to sit and manually call their target numbers.
Why Are Wangiri Attacks Hard to Stop?
Wangiri attacks are hard to stop because they are relatively easy to operate. All a criminal needs is a premium rate number, access to phone numbers to target, and (optionally) the technology to operate the scam at scale.
It’s also straightforward for a fraudster to spin up a new wangiri scam once one has been detected and has to be aborted accordingly. It’s generally considered a “low-risk” scam to operate, with fraudsters often running it from countries far away from the victims they’re targeting. A significant proportion of wangiri calls made to numbers in the UK originate in Africa, for example.
How to Detect Wangiri Fraud
There are two sides to detecting wangiri fraud. As a business, a particular priority is when wangiri fraud is being perpetuated by fraudsters claiming to be from your company.
This is often detected when customers begin to query calls being made to them “from their organization”. Upon investigation, it then proves that the number used isn’t one belonging to the company.
When it comes to detecting wangiri fraud more generally, it’s wise to be alert to unexpected calls from overseas numbers. A lack of familiarity with the format of these numbers can mean that people tend to be unaware that the number they’re dealing with is from a premium rate. As a general rule, it’s best to be wary of overseas numbers, and neglect to call them back unless you are certain they are genuine.
How to Protect Against Wangiri Fraud
Here are some ways to protect against wangiri fraud – both as a business and as an individual.
Search for Missed Call Numbers Online
If you receive a missed call from a number you don’t recognize, it is a good idea to Google the number prior to calling it back.
Numbers linked to legitimate businesses are usually well-publicized, meaning that a Google search will likely show the company it came from. Similarly, the internet is often a good source of information on numbers known to be linked to scams. Many websites maintain databases of suspicious numbers, meaning a simple search will often reveal the malicious intent behind them.
Use Caller Identification Apps
There are various caller identification apps available, some of which even maintain lists of numbers known to be used by fraudsters. An alternative is to use reverse phone lookup tools to access known data relating to a specific number.
Report Suspicious Numbers to Your Carrier
There’s no harm in reporting suspicious incoming calls to your carrier. If they receive multiple reports about the same number, they may block the number network-wide.
Block Known Scam Numbers
If your research reveals that a number you’re receiving missed calls from is linked to a likely scam, you can block that number. This will prevent you accidentally calling it back in the future.
Do Not Share Your Phone Number Online
Telephone fraudsters often go for the “low hanging fruit”. Making your phone number easy to find online means it’s likely to end up on more and more fraudsters’ target lists. Only share your phone number with people and organizations you know and trust.
Inform Your Customers
If you run a business and become aware that your customers are being targeted by wangiri fraud, be sure to communicate the risks and recommend precautions. For example, you could send out an email explaining to customers that you will never call them from an overseas number.
In the past, wangiri fraudsters have specifically targeted customers who use particular mobile networks. In turn, both the networks and the phone regulators have made customers aware of the issue.
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