New Zealand Herald readers have been sharing their wangiri scam stories as more Kiwis are targeted by "hang up calls" from mysterious international numbers.
The elaborate scam, dubbed "wangiri", translates from Japanese to "one ring and cut". The con artists leave missed calls on the user's phone from an unknown international number. Should the user call back, they are charged premium rates of up to $50 a minute.
One Herald reader said he received a Vodafone account via email yesterday that had an $88.88 extra bill for a 0900 call "that was never rang by this household".
After querying it with Vodafone, he was told it was a call "to somebody in an overseas country".
Readers have reported receiving calls from all over the world, most commonly Algeria, Albania, Cuba, Tunisia, Korea, Taiwan and Philippines.
A number of people have received missed calls from +82 (Korea) and +88 (Taiwan) numbers.
One Herald reader sent a screenshot showing a list of calls from different numbers.
This particular scam is not new to Kiwis, having also been reported in February last year.
Herald readers have reported receiving such calls on their cellphones and home phone from "weekly" to "every day", some since January this year.
Another reader said they answered the call before the person on the other end could hang up. They said an Indian man yelled "oh no" before quickly hanging up.
Spark spokesperson Cassie Arauzo told the Herald that wangiri scams are a complex ruse.
"Because calls are billed typically from the time of answer, these attempts have no cost to the attacker. They will typically target mobile phones, as there is a higher likelihood that a mobile phone has caller ID display. The goal for the attacker is to entice victims to call back upon seeing a missed call. The perpetrators make money by collecting revenue on these calls via the premium rates issued by the overseas telecommunications provider, or by scamming victims on the return calls."
Read more: Kiwis scammed out of $10 million in 2017
Vodafone spokesperson Elissa Downey told the Herald that the telco has been keeping an eye on scam activity.
"Our best advice is to avoid answering those numbers or any number you don't recognise or expect a call from and let the call go to voicemail. That way you can check if the message is from someone you were expecting or actually want to hear from. If the caller does not leave a message, ignore it and don't call the number back," said Downey.
Downey recommends users treat the interactions exactly the same as they would an unsolicited email.
"Simply hang up and don't engage," she said.
"It is really important to always be on your guard with callers you don't know – if something seems a bit off or too good to be true, it usually is."
She also advises mobile users to notify their telco immediately if they have received a strange call or large charge.
Characteristics of a scam call
• The scammers often call from an international call centre with a large number of staff – it is often very noisy in the background.
• The scammer claims to be from a company's help desk and offer their staff number to prove they are an employee.
• The scammer claims they have identified a virus in the customer's modem/ computer or that their Wi-Fi has been hacked. They offer to help by taking control of the home computer.
• If the customer is suspicious, they may provide a New Zealand number for the customer to call back on. This number is owned by the scammers as well and the phone is answered "Hello, [company name] help desk".
Netsafe's tips to protect you from scams
• Think twice when you're unexpectedly contacted – even if the person says they're from a legitimate organisation like the bank or your internet provider.
• Don't respond to phone calls or contact about your computer asking for remote access to fix it. No one is going to contact you out of the blue about a problem with your computer.
• Legitimate organisations will never ask you for your passwords. Use good, strong passwords on online accounts – and don't tell anyone what they are. If you think you have shared a password, make sure you change it for that account, and any other accounts if you use the same password in more than one place, such as your computer, email, or social media accounts.
• Keep your personal information secure. Think carefully before entering your details online, or giving them to someone.
• If you're using an online trading or booking website or app, don't communicate or pay outside of the website or app.
• If someone offers you money or another offer, but you have to make a payment up front, ignore it. This is a common tactic of scammers.
• Don't give money to people you have entered into a relationship or friendship with online.
• Use a good antivirus and keep your software up to date. This will help to protect your device from someone trying to access it.
• Be wary of unusual payment requests. Scammers try to use payments that can't be traced such as pre-loaded debit cards, gift cards that can be used online, iTunes cards or money transfer systems.
• If you're not sure if something is legitimate or genuine you can contact us for free advice seven days a week on 0508 NETSAFE or visit www.netsafe.org.nz