When you check your cell phone and see a missed call from an unfamiliar phone number, it's tempting to call it back in case you missed something important. But this attitude (which could perhaps be described as a combination of curiosity and politeness) is being exploited by a particular subset of cell phone scammers known as “crammers,” who trick unsuspecting people into calling numbers that have extremely high fees attached.
Crammers often rely on what's called the “One-Ring Phone Scam,” and it's become common enough that the Better Business Bureau released an official warning about it on Jan. 31.
Perpetrators of this scam program their computers to blast out thousands of calls to random cell phone numbers, ring once, and then disconnect.
This scam relies on consumers calling back missed calls, which then connect them to a paid international adult entertainment service, 'chat' line, or other premium service located outside the country.
Victims who return the call are billed a $19.95 international call fee, along with per minute charges for the unwanted "premium service," which can be $9 per minute or more. In some cases, the scammers may only put through a small charge of several dollars, so it won't arouse suspicion.
That technique of billing only small dollar amounts to avoid suspicion is also being adopted by more and more scammers these days. Jason Willms, the prolific online scammer who's been dubbed the “Dark Lord of the Internet,” allegedly made over $400 million through various subscription and billing scams — and one reason he got away with it as long as he did was his technique of billing credit cards for small random-sounding amounts – $7.22, $2.37, etc. – which looked like legitimate charges (especially for people who use their credit cards so frequently, they can't remember every specific charge they made).
Check your bill
That's why you need to scrupulously check your credit card billing statement every month – and give the same scrutiny to your cell phone bills, too. The best way to avoid falling prey to the one-ring phone scam is to never call unfamiliar out-of-state numbers that hang up without leaving a message.
However, if you are tricked into making such a call, hang up immediately and then contact your cell phone provider; the sooner you report the fraudulent call, the better your chances of having the charge taken off your bill.