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What Is the 'Wangiri' or 1-Ring Phone Scam?

Man texting on his smartphone outdoor
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 03, 2019

All the best scams have cool names. Pyramid and Ponzi schemes. Email phishing and catfishing. Virtual kidnapping and neighbor spoofing. And then there is the mysterious Wangiri.

"Wangiri" is Japanese for "one ring and drop," and describes a specific phone scam designed to hook people into long phone calls at exorbitant rates. So how does it work, and what can you do to prevent it?

That Call Is Coming From Outside the Country

We all miss calls. But some of us are more curious about our missed calls than others. And if the caller doesn't leave a voicemail, it can be tempting to dial that number back and find out who's on the other end.

The Wangiri, or one-ring scam uses automated dialing machines to repeatedly dial phone numbers once and then hang up. Often, these calls will appear as "unknown caller" or "no caller id" -- these can't be blocked -- and some will go beyond just one ring and will leave phony voice-mail messages urging you to call a number to "collect a prize" or to notify you about a "sick" relative.

But if you dial them back, your call is routed to a premium rate service which can charge both a connection fee and a pricey per minute rate. The Better Business bureau reports some victims are billed as much as $20 as an international call fee, and then $9 per minute or more, although some savvy scammers keep the prices lower to avoid suspicion. Once you're on the call, scammers will try to keep you on as long as possible.

Hotline One-Ring

Obviously, the easiest way to combat the Wangiri is by not answering or returning any calls from numbers you don't recognize. The Federal Communications Commission also recommends:

  • Before calling unfamiliar numbers, check to see if the area code is international;
  • If you do not make international calls, ask your phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line; and
  • Always be cautious, even if a number appears authentic.

If you do fall victim to the one-ring scam, you can try having your telephone company reverse the charges. And if that doesn't work, you can try filing a complaint with the FCC or Federal Trade Commission.

Related Resources:

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