November 15, 2008 1 Comment
I just received this text message :
From : +447833983690!!URGENT!!Large Parcel Awaiting DeliveryPlease Call Now on +23222270680For Delivery TomorrowInternational Parcel Deliveries
It’s lucky I’m such a suspicious person because, had I got carried away in the excitement of receiving a “Large Parcel”, I might not have noticed that the number starts +232 (for Sierra Leone) and would have ended up talking to a convincing telephone queueing system on a premium rate line in a distant foreign country. Having Googled these numbers and the content of this text it seems that this con is now absolutely rife on UK networks.
It’s the latest evolution in simple mobile phone scams which started with missed calls where your phone would barely ring even once and you’d see a missed call message and an incoming caller id. The number displayed would look to the untrained eye like a UK mobile number (07…….) but it would actually be a premium rate number at upto £1.50 per minute. Calling back would normally elicit some kind of recording simulating a call waiting message to keep you on the line for as long as possible. Then there were the text messages telling you there was a voice message for you at a certain number…same scam new variation and so it has gone on.
As far as I can see mobile operators in the UK have done little or nothing to combat this kind of fraud. At the end of the day it’s something that will cost them money to prevent and only benefit their customers not their bottom line, so I’m not holding my breath. However, ultimately they will have to act. This is just the tip of the iceberg. As mobile phones get more complex and more connected and more location aware and so on the scams will get more sophisticated. These text scams are really just simple versions of the Nigerian 419 scams, but all the more dangerous because of their simplicity and the fact that the mechanism for extracting money from the victim (the premuim rate service and the phone bill) are already in place. There’s almost no thinking time for the victtim between the initiation of the scam and the money being gone. It’s literally just the press of a button in some cases.
Mobile operators need to act soon to introduce spam/content/phishing filtering on texts, and systems for reporting the source number of scam messages so they can be blocked. Just a number that users could forward suspect messages to would be a good start. Mobile users also need to be able to opt in to call barring schemes so that if they inadvertently call a premium rate or international number that is not in their phone book or on a personal “white list” they will get an audible warning before the call is connected.
These kinds of scams cost very little to perpetrate. They’re not as cheap as email scams but scammers will pay a small premium to have access to the mobile operators billing system. By comparison, the return (one user complained that his call to Sierra Leone cost him £20) is excellent.