Text Fraud

I just received this text message :
From : +447833983690
Large Parcel Awaiting Delivery
Please Call Now on +23222270680
For Delivery Tomorrow
International 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.
Since I posted this blog entry, currently about 18 hours ago, I have had over 60 hits from Google alone where one of the phone numbers was used as a search term. Bear in mind that this blog only ranks as the 6th result so I’m only getting a tiny fraction of the searches. The site whocallsme.com allows people to submit and share information about nuisance callers. The number in Sierra Leone currently has six pages of notifications at 20 per page.


There seems to be so much happening at once. There is currently a convergence in mobile computing. Smartphones have been getting smarter and laptops have been getting smaller and now all the mobile operators are offering netbooks free (or very cheap) with mobile broadband contracts in much the same way that they have always offered free mobile phones with airtime contracts. Three are even offering a wireless mobile broadband router that you can plug your mobile broadband USB modem into in order to share it with others. We just need to get the price per GB to come down so that sharing your mobile broadband isn’t like throwing money out of the window and bring roaming data/broadband in out of complete rip-off territory. We are also seeing the first devices to feature Qualcomm‘s new GOBI chipset which allows devices to connect to any wireless network anywhere. It will handle all major RF bands, uniting Wi-Fi and 3G, and has inbuilt GPS functionality all on a single, low voltage chipset.
At the same time there has been a lot of activity around connectivity and adding some smart to the internet as it transforms itself from a series of tubes to a cluster of clouds. Not least of all Microsoft’s recent and long overdue announcements at PDC about its cloud computing platform and other good stuff in the pipeline. We should also finally see some movement in Live Mesh, which has been sitting around like a 3rd wheel for so long you almost started to feel sorry for it. We should expect Mesh connectivity for mobile devices imminently so we can finally start getting all our devices connected, sharing and syncing in the cloud. I would also expect to see some kind of Mesh connectivity for the XBox 360 soon and the first pure Mesh and Mesh aware apps.
Finally there’s Silverlight for Windows Mobile, Silverlight for Symbian S60 (Nokia et al), Steve Jobs hinting at Silverlight for iPhone, Mesh in Windows Mobile 7, Windows 7 itself and a full .NET compact framework for Symbian S60 (albeit not a free one) from RedFiveLabs.
We are still waiting for the next big revolution in mobile power to close the loop but there have been a recent spate of advances in photo-voltaic cells and in batteries that run on plant cellulose, water, sugar, urine…you name it, someone is getting volts out of it. Some of these new power cells are also biodegradable which is doubly cool.
However you look at it the future of computing is looking mobile, cloudy and increasingly silver.
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