Beware: New Phone Scam Hits Nigeria’s Telecom Industry


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As the world and Nigerian economy embraces the technological trends and all the benefits associated with Mobile technology, it seems like as always, fraudsters and scam Artists are daily devising ways to utilize this for selfish reasons. More and more people are falling victim to this scams and it has become necessary to bring it to our notice.

I read a story on one of the dailies recently that carried a similar caption. When I went through, I released how close I was to falling victim. Sometimes last week, I got a call from an international number, after the caller “flashed” (using the local slang) 3 times, i decided to call back just to see who desperately wants to talk and doesn’t have airtime to make the call.

The call went through, and I heard an automated white female voice responding to which it started to list a couple of options to select from, luckily for me I ended the call immediately. After that call, I got similar “flash” incidences on a number of other occasions but by this time, I had lost interest and did bother to call back. But unfortunately not all Nigerians have been this lucky.  People who continued with similar calls usually get charged N250 for a call that lasts barely one minute.

Millions of mobile phone users in Nigeria targeted by premium rate phone fraudsters in a new wave of callback scams that could see Nigeria lose up to one billion Naira in one fell swoop.

The scam is set with foreign premium rate numbers. It beeps your phone with the call quickly terminated, luring you to believe a foreign contact is trying to reach you. Victims are those who call back. They unknowingly pay heavily for the minutes spent on the call.

“+16644115003 called me and then cut off; I was wondering if a lost and forgotten friend in Europe or America remembered me. On calling the number, a voicemail from a white lady was giving me instructions that I had won a certain amount of money that I needed to clear. There and then, I realised it was a scam and I was charged heavily from my airtime,” Kennedy Nsan, another Nigerian victim narrated.

A part of the amount paid by victims is deposited in the accounts of the fraudsters through a sophisticated telecommunication revenue generation system. The revenue earned through the call is shared between a local telecom operator and the owner of the premium rate number.

A premium rate number attracts a high fee and therefore callers end up paying high charges for the calls they make to this number. Some genuine businesses earn decent income by promoting premium rate numbers.

The fraud, which started over a decade ago is also known as the ‘Wangiri Fraud’ and originated in Japan in early 2000. ‘Wangiri’ literally means ‘one ring and cut’.

The Wangiri phone fraud involves a computer using certain phone lines to dial numerous mobile phones numbers at random. The numbers appear as missed calls on the recipients mobile. Believing a legitimate call was cut off, or simply curious, victims are enticed to call back.

The victim is then charged the exorbitant fee set by the fraudster.

At a little cost, the fraudsters hire international premium rate numbers for the scam that pays out up to N100 on every minute of call received.

A 2012 report released by BICS of Begacom, Belgian Telecom Company, indicates that in one attack targeted at Nigeria in 2012, the fraudsters got 50,000 callbacks from Nigerian victims and 9,600 in another similar attack.

It is almost impossible to quantify victims in the latest attack but in the past two weeks, several users have complained of receiving the missed calls and calling back.

Premium rate numbers are legal, making it difficult for operators to anticipate Wangiri. An official of Airtel Nigeria – worst hit by recent wave of Wangiri  told correspondents that whenever the networks senses an unusual activity on any of such lines, it is barred.

Telephone companies, in developed countries, usually offer blocking services to allow users bar premium rate numbers. But these blocking services are not available in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Communications Commission does not even acknowledge Wangiri as a scam.

“It is not everything you call scam,” Reuben Mouka, spokesperson of the commissioner said.

He argued that victims lose money on their volition and curiosity, by choosing to call back unknown missed calls.

“The man [fraudsters] did not force you to call back,” he added while blaming the networks for allowing the fraudsters access.


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