Kevin Hunt: The 'One-Ring' Scam; Attorney's Number Hijacked


Even scammers get bored. So they've developed new scams for the 2014 rip-off season, including a "one-ring" operation that plants unauthorized charges on a victim's mobile-phone statement.

The new wrinkle in this unauthorized-charges ruse is that the scammers actually entice victims to return calls, exposing themselves to the charges, by calling them first and hanging up after one ring.

The victims, curious, call back without realizing the number they've dialed charges $19.95 instantly to their phone bill and maybe $9 for each additional minute. (The number could be an adult-entertainment service, which might account for some victim's bills exceeding $19.95.)

Bob Melusky of Manchester says he received such a call in early February, even though he never picked up the phone or called the number showing on his Caller ID. He recognized the area code, 268 (Antigua), as one associated with scams. Others to watch for are 809 (Dominican Republic), 876 (Jamaica), 284 (British Virgin Islands) and 473 (Grenada).

"I never call back numbers," says Melusky.

A few days later, Melusky received another call originating from 268. He didn't fall for it, of course, and he doesn't want other people victimized by a practice known as cramming.

"The best advice," he says, "is don't call unknown numbers out of curiosity. If somebody is really trying to reach you, they will call back. I had a call a few years ago that had a fading voice like it was a bad connection. I called it back and it was [a company] ready with a security system pitch. After that, it was very difficult to get them to stop calling my cellphone. I suspect it was a ploy to verify a number and gain the legal right to call a number under the Do Not Call list rules at the time."

To succeed, the cramming scheme needs people who do not notice the unauthorized charges on increasingly complex and confusing monthly phone bills.

"Sometimes scammers will submit charges bill for as little as $2 for thousands or tens of thousands of consumers, because they suspect the charge will go undetected, and unfortunately, in some cases they are correct," says Howard Schwartz of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. "The recent large retail data breaches are also a wake-up call to make sure you can account for every withdrawal from a bank account or credit card charge."

Stolen Phone Number

Another phone scam, spoofing, claims two victims: Scammers co-opt the number of a local resident, then use it to call other locals in an attempt to collect personal information like bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and birth dates. Even if the recipients don't give up personal information, they're often upset with the caller — who they think is a fellow town resident.

Kevin Connors, a Willimantic attorney who lives in Hebron, is among the latest spoofing victims in Connecticut. He received so many complaints in January that he left a preemptive voice message on his phone.

"I thought it would help to be out front with acknowledging the problem and apologizing right away," he says. "Most folks were understanding. One woman left a really angry message. And it was noted by more than one person that they appreciated the brief explanation on the voicemail message. That would seem to be a helpful approach in dealing with those affected. . . . At least a couple of people got hit with some pretty sensitive questions about their finances."

In mid-2013, The Bottom Line featured two other spoofing victims, including someone Connors knows: fellow Hebron resident Elaine Massa.

"After reading your article [online]," he says, I called her to see if there is anything that can be done. As I suspected from my research, it looks like, 'Not Much.'"

Connors also called his landline-service provider, Comcast, for help.

"But there is really nothing they can do," he says, "since my equipment is functioning and the calls are not originating from my line. I verified this by going online to view my phone logs at Comcast / Xfinity."

Since the Caller ID Act of 2009, this type of spoofing is a crime. But other types of spoofing are legal. Pranksters can use it to appear as if the incoming call is from the president of the United States. (SpoofCard.com is among the legal disguise-your-Caller-ID sites.) Someone working at home can make calls appear to become coming from the office.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much Connors can do.

"Although I could not offer him solutions, at least I could sympathize with him," says Massa. "I did not change my number. The calls lasted for about a week and a half and then they stopped. I think they know that by constantly changing, they most likely will not get caught."

Richard Young, the other spoofing victim featured in The Bottom Line column last year, said he learned that at least 90 spoofing calls were made using his number. He pledged to changed the number he had used for 50 years. Massa says she received at least 30 calls in three days from local residents who wanted to know why she called.

Then it was Connors' turn.

"This is of particular concern because I work as an attorney in a small suburban firm where reputation is critical to my business," he says.

By Presidents Day, he says, the surge ended.

"Changing the voicemail message seemed to help considerably," he says, "at least in terms of dealing with the quizzical recipients of calls from 'me.' . . . I wish there was something that could be done. I take great offense at the commercial exploitation of this technology."

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