Officials warn of ‘one-ring’ phone scams

OLYMPIA — A strange call from an area code in the Caribbean that hangs up after one ring probably isn’t someone calling to tell you you’ve won a tropical vacation.

It’s most likely another case of the “one-ring scam.” Governments, including the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, law enforcement agencies and mobile carriers are warning people not to call those numbers back.

The scam works like this: Automatic dialers call thousands of random cellphone numbers, hanging up after one ring.

The scammers want you to think you’re missing an important call and call that number back. If you do, however, you’ll be charged a $19.95 international connection fee, plus an additional $9 per minute you’re on the line.

Many of the calls originate in the Caribbean, in countries or territories such as Antigua or Barbuda (area code 268), the Dominican Republic (809), Jamaica (876), the British Virgin Islands (284) or Grenada (473).

Other area codes associated with the scam include 664, 649, 767, 829 and 849, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

These scammers take advantage of the fact that these foreign locations can be reached by mobile phones in the U.S. even if the customer doesn’t have an international calling plan. If you do call back, you might reach an adult entertainment service, or possibly just a message to stay on the line for an operator.

Alison Dempsey-Hall, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s office, said that while they’ve only had one complaint so far, they are getting numerous calls about the scam, and even her own coworkers are receiving the calls.

Furthermore, the Better Business Bureau has been tracking these calls across the U.S.

“Essentially, it seems to be sweeping the nation,” Dempsey-Hall said.

If you get a call on your cell phone from an unknown number that hangs up after one ring, the advice from the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and other agencies is the same: Ignore it. Never return calls to unfamiliar foreign numbers.

If you’re tempted to call back, check the number through online directories first, to find out where it is registered.

If you think you’re a victim of a one-ring scam, contact your mobile carrier and try to resolve the charges with them. If that doesn’t work, both the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission have online complaint forms (at ftccomplaintassistant.gov and fcc.gov/complaints, respectively).

As a general rule, read your phone bill carefully, and if you don’t recognize a call, contact your carrier.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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