Warnings spread across social media and instant messaging services in Pakistan the past week as a notorious phone call scam resurfaced, targeting numbers across cellular networks.
Scores of citizens reported receiving phone calls from international unknown numbers — a tell-tale sign of the Wangiri or one-call scam which calls people in the hope that they will return the call and be charged high call rates. Wangiri translates to ‘one ring and cut’ in Japan from where the hoax first originated.
Whatsapp users in Pakistan forwarded the following message to friends on their contact list:
Please pass this message to your family and friends NOW. People have been receiving calls from Tel: +375602605281 Tel: +37127913091 Tel: +37178565072 Tel: +56322553736 Tel: +37052529259 Tel: +255901130460 or any number starting from +371 +375 +381 These guys only ring once and hang up. If you call back,they can copy your contact list in 3sec and if you have a bank or credit card details on your phone, they can copy that too... +375 code is for Belarus. +371 code is for Lativa. +381 Serbia. +563 Valparaiso. +370 Vilnius. +255 Tanzania. Don't answer or Call back. Also, Don't Press #90 or #09 on your Mobile when asked by any caller. It's a new trick which is use to access your SIM card, make calls at your expense and frame you as a criminal. URGENTLY FORWARD this message to as many friends as you can to stop any intrusion!!
Khalid Anees, the deputy director of Federal Investigation Agency Punjab Cybercrime Wing, said that these forwarded messages are creating panic. “It is not possible to access the SIM card using international calls,” he told Dawn.com. “The received calls are being made through the internet; this is called ‘net war’. Circulating these forwards messages is like giving credence to rumour mongering.”
Reports of such scams date back to 2012, when Australian citizens reported receiving unsolicited calls from unknown international numbers. A website first outlined the ‘call back’ scam, indicating that people have been lured into calling these numbers back out of curiosity, after which they were charged upto $15 for the call. Reports suggest that simply returning the calls cannot result in personal data being instantly stolen from the user’s phone.
To steal such data, hackers would have to find another way to penetrate the phone which would require much more than just calling a particular phone number.
Local security expert Norbert Almeida, too, concurs with the FIA’s statement. “Phones cannot be hacked in this way. The only thing they can do is expect you to call back and incur high calling charges, in which the hackers get a cut.”
Almeida continues, “Don’t call back unknown international numbers. And if it persists, just don’t answer.”