Thousands hit by mobile scam


The communications watchdog has moved swiftly to ensure that those behind a scam which targeted tens of thousands of Irish mobile phone users over the weekend do not get paid.

Throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning thousands of people received missed calls from a number which started with the prefix 386. Many called the number back under the assumption that it came from an Irish 086 number – which would appear on a mobile phone as 35386.
 However they were then connected to a premium rate service based in Slovenia and while some had their calls cut off as soon as a connection was made, others were diverted to telephone sex lines.

The communications regulator ComReg was unable to say how much the connection charges were or how much money the scam cost Irish consumers but the connection charge is believed to have been in excess of €2 while similar charges for each additional minute callers spent on the line.

Irish consumers are, however, likely be reimbursed by their providers for any charges incurred after ComReg stepped in to ensure the company behind the calls would not get paid. “If those responsible do not get paid by their provider then the Irish networks will not have to pay any money and consumers will have all call charges reimbursed” an industry source told The Irish Times.

ComReg is understood to be keen to send an unambiguous message to those behind the scam that the regulatory process in the Republic is sufficiently tight to ensure that payment will always be withheld in these circumstances so as to deter future scams of this nature.

All the scam calls were targeted at customers with the 087 phone prefix but the issue did not affect customers of any one mobile phone network.

“The calls were not long enough for anyone to answer but the people behind the scam were playing on people’s instinct to return calls from missed numbers especially if they come in the middle of the night” said ComReg spokeswoman Barbara Delaney.

“Once you made the call you would be hit with one charge but those behind the scam would have wanted people to stay on the phone for as long as possible so they would also have played noises which might have made some people curious,” she added.

She said that while the numbers appeared to have originated in Slovenia they could have been cloned and may have come from elsewhere.

 The calls were made to mobile phone numbers which were randomly generated by a computer and then machine dialled so there are no data protection implications.

Ms Delaney said that such scams “pop up from time to time and are not unique to this jurisdiction. Once they happen we are in contact with the providers and can react very quickly in having the originating numbers blocked.”

Any one who believes they have fallen victim to this scam is being advised to contacted their phone provider to see what, if any, charges have been incurred.

Other well-known scams

It can’t be you: Letters and emails announcing you have won the lottery in a foreign country despite the fact that you have never bought a ticket. All you need to do is cover the administration costs and the money is yours. It’s not.

Vexing texting: You get a text congratulating you on winning a prize but you have to call a premium rate number to claim it. Either the prize does not exist or the cost of the call will be higher than the value of it.

It never works: Ads offering you the chance to work from home assembling products such as model kits or dolls before sending them back to the company. You pay upfront for materials assemble the product only to be told your work is defective.

Con calls: Microsoft calls you to warn you that you have a virus on your computer. You download a file from a website which gives the scammers access to your machine. Sometimes you are asked to pay for the privilege.

Gone phishing: Emails from the tax man, eBay, your bank, the gardaí or someone you once met in Benidorm asking for financial details or a dig-out are always bogus.

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