Mystery calls from Caribbean could cost residents

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by KMOV.com Staff | @KMOV

KMOV.com

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 5:59 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 28 at 6:00 PM

(KMOV.com) -- A call comes to your cell phone and rings only one time.  Your caller ID shows it’s from the Caribbean.  Whatever you do, don’t call it back.  That’s the message from the Better Business Bureau.

“They’re calling hoping you’re curious enough to call them back and when that happens, charges rack up on your phone bill,” said St Louis BBB’s Chris Thetford.

It’s called the “ring once” scam and crooks bank on curiosity... or inattention (someone blindly calling back) to cash in.   If you call back, you’re likely calling a premium rate number to an entertainment line that charges by the minute (much like 1-900 numbers).  The charges later end up on your phone bill.

The Federal Trade Commission says it can trace the unauthorized charges.  But, if the money ends up overseas prosecution becomes more difficult.

Legitimate companies use third party billing to bundle, say, a phone bill with a cable bill.  If you’ve ever sent a text to donate money to a charity, that mechanism allows the charge to appear on your phone bill.  But, crooks also can use that method to “cram” a bill, which is illegal.

The FTC says its seen an explosion in illegal robocalls because technology has made it easy and profitable to run these scams.

“Unfortunately, because of the ease of programming a computer to call lots and lots of phone numbers, have the phone ring one time, and hang up it makes it very prevalent.  While you may not call them back, they’re hoping somebody else will.  So, they scattershot and hit lots of different phones and hope that just a certain percentage of people will actually call them,” said Thetford.

On KMOV’s Facebook page, KMOV asked if anyone else has received these calls.  Many responded to say the calls recently came in. One person wrote an email to News 4’s Diana Zoga, saying she received the call and thought about a relative who was on a cruise.  She decided not to call back, figuring the person would be closer to the states and not Antigua.  

But if you did call back, Thetford says it’s important to call your phone company to put a stop to the unauthorized charges.  

“Your ability to control what those charges will be down the road is greatly increased when you make that call quickly, yourself, to your provider.”

Here’s what the FTC says about cramming: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0183-mystery-phone-charges

The Missouri Attorney General’s office says it has not received complaints about this scam, but asks anyone who receives the calls to contact the Consumer Protection hotline at 1-800-392-8222 or go online www.ago.mo.gov to file a complaint.

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