Srinagar: The cyber cell of the Jammu & Kashmir Police has warned residents against answering late-night missed calls from unknown numbers following hundreds of complaints that point towards a racket aimed at robbing unwitting users of their phone balance.
In what is being referred to as the “One Ring Phone Scam”, alleged racketeers make phone calls to their potential victims, mostly in the middle of the night, but cut the call after one ring.
Morning talks everywhere…
Bro got missed call from international no. Yesterday. Almost everyone in #Kashmir has got these missed calls…
And as expected no one can beat kashmir in spreading rumors "Dapan agar phone tulakh account gasee khaale"🙏 pic.twitter.com/GPWcAqyp3Z
— Sahil Durani (@SAHILDURRANI5) June 9, 2020
Am I the only one in #Kashmir, who has received many missed calls from Saudi Arabia since past two days?
— koshur batuk (@koshurbatuk) June 8, 2020
The scammers allegedly use system-generated numbers that largely carry ISD codes of West Asian countries, where a lot of Kashmir residents are employed. According to police, the racketeers may be employing West Asian country codes to mislead J&K residents into thinking that the call may be from relatives or friends using a different number. However, the scammers have also been using system-generated numbers with domestic codes, police sources told ThePrint.
When a prepaid customer calls back on the unknown number, their balance gets deducted or, in some cases, their mobile data allocation is completely consumed. For post-paid users, the call-back reflects charges of hundreds of rupees in their monthly bills. Police have also said the callers engage their victims in “trivial talk” about lotteries and credit cards to keep them on the line longer.
Police sources said they had received around 500 such complaints, and the cyber cell is looking into the possibility of a major data breach of customer databases maintained by telecom service providers.
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“It is possible there might have been a breach of data at some level. We are looking into the matter,” said a senior police officer.
‘Don’t call back’
Last week, the cyber police department issued an advisory asking people not to not ring back if they receive such suspicious calls.
“If your phone may ring once and then stops. If that happens to you and you do not recognise the number, do not return the call. You may be the target of ‘One Ring Phone Scam’,” reads the cyber police advisory. “The one-ring call may appear to be from an international number.”
Police suspect that the scammers could proceed to target people’s bank accounts, which are mostly linked to their phone numbers.
J&K Cyber Police chief Tahir Ashraf sought to explain the nature of the scam in a Twitter thread last week.
“Preliminary investigations suggest that the ‘One Ring Phone Scam’ is a global scam. We have received over 500 distress calls from across Kashmir. In fact, victims from Doda, Poonch and even Jammu made distress calls. We have launched an investigation, coupled with a massive awareness programme, to make people aware of the scam,” he said.
“The calls get routed through an expensive premium number in which a lot of balance gets deducted when you talk. The scammer mostly engages customers in trivial talk, like about lottery, credit card and bank loans while your balance and data get deducted at a rapid speed,” Ashraf added.
He said the system-generated calls are “almost impossible” to trace, but asked people to report this to their telecom service providers so “that they install a defence mechanism in their system which can stop such calls”.
“We get a lot of questions from people on how the scammers go their number in the first place. A lot of companies have these data such as true caller, or places where people shop. There are a lot of companies which collect this data and they sell this data,” Ashraf added.
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