KOCHI, February 2: The decades old `Wangiri fraud’, in which conmen lure people using suggestive pictures to entice them to ring up premium numbers, has surfaced in a new format in the city.
In the past one week, dozens of Kochiites have been receiving missed calls from numbers beginning with +225 and +381, traced back to the Ivory Coast and Serbia, respectively, followed by a contact number on WhatsApp. The caller will disconnect after a single ring and hence the name Wangiri, which in Japanese means ‘one ring’ and ‘cut’. The contact is more of an invitation for phone sex, with messages that follow stating ‘Call me’ along with provocative pictures of women.
The contacts are from a host of different locations across India, from Afzalpur in Karnataka, Bodhan in Nizamabad, Telangana and Mumbai. “I first received a missed called from the +225 number which my Truecaller app identified as ‘XYZ from Abidjan, Ivory Coast’. Then I received a WhatsApp from the same number for a contact named Soniya. In a matter of minutes, the same thing happened to my brother and my dad who also received such calls and contacts with various names like Bani and Monika,” said Melinda Hendricks, an IT professional from Vypeen.
According to cyber forensic expert Vinod Bhattathiripad, such cases are now rampant. “The phone number from which the call originated will be saved on something called the international landing device (ILD) which aids in the transfer of the call through international servers, but it is very difficult for us to obtain information from the ILD,” he said.
“It looked like a Mumbai number as the city’s STD code is 22. I have several friends in Mumbai so I called back on the number. It seemed like someone had picked up the call, but I got no response. When I cut the call, I found that I had lost Rs 100 for a call that lasted just a matter of seconds,” said Dr Eric La’frenais, a dentist from Palluruthy.
Although, these messages come across as open invitations for phone sex, Bhattathiripad states that such incidents are more of a money making scheme. The calls originate from international premium rate numbers, procured by businesses establishments and the revenue earned from the calls goes to the conmen minus a share paid to their telecom operators abroad.
But it is not uncommon for agent operators of the company to be situated outside the national capital region, mainly Noida. Those who are tricked and return the calls stand to pay hefty amounts, even twice as much as normal call charges. “They use phone sex as a mean to increase calls made by unsuspecting individuals. The gross revenue made goes to conmen, while service providers receiving a percentage as surcharge,” said advocate Prashant Mali, a Mumbai-based cyber law and cyber security expert.
“The telecom companies get a commission of 20% to 30% on premium calls. The more people talk, the more the companies earn,” he said.
“There has to be combing operations by the department of telecommunications in NCR and all such call centres. The telecom department has labelled such scams as revenue earned from VAS (value-added services) operations. Looting unsuspected consumers or offering phone sex cannot be VAS nor has it been defined by the law anywhere,” Mali added.