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Posting here after question was closed off topic on Skeptics


I know (because I am a daily victim) about the phenomenon of surcharge ping calls. First of all, let me first speak that I live in Europe and the following was happening during UK's membership of EU. Actually, I initially wrote this question on 31st January 2020.

Some references here:

Fraud scheme, short

Callers drop a missed call from abroad numbers in order for you to call them back and incur in a hefty premium-service fee.

Fraud scheme, a little more detail

You get a missed call on your mobile phone. Usually the phone just rings one and then drops, or in my case it rings until you answer, but then the call drops immediately, so you will eventually see that you have this call from a number you don't know. Usually (and from my experience) these calls came from Africa, e.g. Tunisia, Morocco.

You will be tempted to call that number back. Chances increase by subject and the fact that some mobile users don't quite understand international prefixes.

When you call, you will be held on a line for as longest as possible. The number will activate a super-charge rate that drops your mobile credit at a very fast rate (pause...).

The following information is not reported in the sources I linked, but is part of my knowledge about the scam: the scammer will earn a lot of money from the supercharge rate.

I know that in Europe it is possible for anyone, even a small studio, to purchase a phone number with almost any kind of surcharge rate, even €30/min if they like.

However, AFAIK supercharge numbers must "appear" in a non-geographic area code. Given that, for example, London area code is (+44)020, you can't (you should never be able to) obtain a supercharge number in area 020. Same with 0800 which are always free (source).

If I get a ping call on my European number coming from the UK and recognize that the call comes from a geographic or mobile area code, can I feel safer and try to call back? Or is it possible for anyone to surcharge calls to a geographic/mobile number?

How is it possible that someone is able to charge hefty fees on a number that looks like a plain landline or mobile number? I am actually asking some details on how international phone communication works. And I know that part of answer involves SIP and VoIP.

Now about intercontinental interoperability.

I have mentioned that a number of calls come from African countries. I am no expert in telecommunication networks, but I can barely believe that if your network routes your call to an African surcharge hotline number, your bill will be routed to that operator.

Especially on the fact that line numbers may change so frequently that your home operator may not exactly know the fare to apply for a number registered yesterday in Tanzania or Kerbleckistan.

Can really phone operators route bills along calls that easily? In a way that the holder of an African surcharge line, the scammer, eventually gets their money?

Conversely, I would expect that if I call Tunisia from my phone I get charged for the (hefty) standard rate for calls to Tunisia, which is hefty but well known if I read my mobile plan sheet. Which I have at hand.

Why am I asking this

I am confused. I constantly get missed or instantly-dropped calls from the UK. And I always find that those numbers are geographic landline numbers. How can the scammer get more money from me if I call a geographic number? I can see that calls to UK cost 0.232€/min from my provider's fares page. Then, if I call Liverpool's +4415164566xx I should be paying no more than 0.232€/min, which go to my mobile operator and don't count to my flat-fare phone plan.

Who earns money from missed calls from European or formerly-European countries?

I normally see on the internet advices to "never call back", and that's why I initially posted on Skeptics. I started to think, despite even some national police websites warn about the fraud scheme, that this alleged scheme has something really odd with it. I obviously never tried myself. The linked TV show video shows a demo of the scam, where the presenter loses a lot of money in a few minutes. But that's not consistent with my current knowledge of phone networks, nor with the fact that I see "never call this number [UK landline number]" around.


Note 1: on Jan 31st I got a ping call from +44 7947 502xxx which Android recognizes as XXXXXX Fine Art and Google Maps shows as a shop in Stirling, Scotland. The area code is recognized as Mobile

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You should ask your phone company how they would charge you.

No, I don't think they would "route your bill2, imho that makes no sense. What could happen is that the foreign phone company told them that you incurred in a charge of XX amount, and your local company then billed you that.

Actually, that's exactly what happens when you call a surcall number. You get billed by the phone company, even if it is done for a different company (e.g. that small studio). And sometimes they won't even disclose to whom you supposedly called. You could dispute the charges, though.

However, I find strange that this is what it would be doing with international calls, as it probably need to disclose in advance to the consumer how much a call would cost (like calls to country will be billed at X rate). Supercharge numbers would probably not work when called internationally.

I suspect that the fraud might not be in getting you to call them, but in the actual content of the call, which could for instance be directed to compromise your computer through a "Microsoft techinician" scam. The fact that it only ran very little might be due to calling many people at once, and dropping the rest of the calls when one replies.

The numbers of those calls could be spoofed (there's no guarantee that the number which appears is the one that is calling you, specially if coming internationally from a different network), which wouldn't matter if they don't expect you to call back.

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