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Robocalls: Don’t be fooled by the one-ring scam, FCC warns

You probably don’t need us to tell you that the scourge of robocalls continues unabated. Research pointed to a huge uptick in such calls in 2018 with an estimated 47.8 billion of them made in the United States alone – an increase of 56 percent on a year earlier.

Even more troubling is that 40 percent of robocalls are thought to be scammers trying to trick us into coughing up for bogus goods or services, or some other racket aimed at separating us from our hard-earned cash.

A long-running hustle that is reportedly seeing a resurgence involves a scammer calling someone and then hanging up after just a couple of seconds. The perpetrator hopes that curiosity will prompt the person to call back. But doing so will result in expensive per-minute charges, leaving the caller with an expensive bill if the scammer succeeds in keeping them on the line for any length of time.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is so concerned about the spike in incidents that it has issued a special alert, warning consumers to beware of the scam.

It said the calls are mostly being made in the middle of the night and, according to the country code, are coming from Mauritania, a country in West Africa. Recent calls appear to be targeting large numbers of people living in the states of New York and Arizona, though this could change at any time.

In its alert, the FCC said those behind the scam “are likely trying to prompt consumers to call the number back, often resulting in per minute toll charges similar to a 900 number.”

It added, “They may call repeatedly, hoping the consumer calls back and runs up a toll that is largely paid to the scammer.”

The commission advises people to avoid returning calls if the number isn’t familiar, and to file a complaint on the FCC’s website when an apparent scam call is received.

“If you never make international calls, consider talking to your phone company about blocking outbound international calls to prevent accidental toll calls,” the FCC said, at the same time pointing out that you should always check your phone bill for charges that you don’t recognize.

The commission noted that today’s technology makes it easier than ever for scammers to make large numbers of calls quickly and cheaply, while spoofing tools allow them to mask their identity, making it pretty much impossible for people to know where the call is really coming from.

Despite data indicating that the number of robocalls is on the increase, the FCC insists it’s tackling the problem with “enforcement actions, a strong push for caller ID authentication, and support for call blocking tools.”

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