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Alarm as international call scam hits Kenya

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An international scam in which mobile phone users are fleeced of their money by fraudsters has spread to Kenya. PHOTO | Fotosearch

An international scam in which mobile phone users are fleeced of their money by fraudsters has spread to Kenya, causing jitters among local service providers.

In the scam, victims receive very brief or missed calls from unknown international numbers with frequent prefixes being  +41 (Switzerland), +963 (Syria), +252 (Somalia), and +37 (Latvia).

The scheme is designed to lure phone users into returning the “urgent” international calls, upon which they are unknowingly redirected to premium numbers that drain lines of credit.

The longer the caller stays on the line, the more money the swindlers make.

The scam, dubbed “wangiri” because the phone rings only once,  has been reported elsewhere across the world, leading telecom firms in Europe and the United States (US) to raise the alarm.

The con men have now made their way into Kenya.

Ignore and block

Safaricom #ticker:SCOM customers who had been affected took to Twitter to complain while Telkom Kenya said it had received a “number of complaints” about the international calls.

Both companies have now warned customers to be wary of strange international calls and to ignore and block the callers.

“We have advised our customers to ignore these calls and to avoid returning any missed calls from unknown international numbers,” said Telkom Kenya.

Preventing these scam calls is difficult for telecom firms because it would be imprudent to block an entire country-prefix from calling into a network.

However, when the scam hit Ireland last year, operators asked customers to forward the numbers that had made the calls. These numbers would then be blocked from the network.

On Twitter, Safaricom has asked customers to forward the international numbers that have called them to 333, a short-code which the company makes available to customers for reporting fraud.

It is not clear if the company intends to follow international practice and block these numbers from its network.

No formal complaints

Kenya’s Communications Authority acknowledged that this is new scam, but said that it had yet to receive formal complaints from consumers. 

Internationally, regulators have issued guidelines and warnings to customers about these call cons. 

In the US, subscribers who feel that they have been unfairly charged in one of these phone scams can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

These bills can be especially high considering that the US is a largely post-paid market. In Kenya, on the other hand, the amount which a customer can be fleeced will in most cases be restricted by the amount of credit loaded on the phone.

Ireland’s Commission for Communications Regulation warns phone users that it is virtually impossible to differentiate between scam calls and genuine calls on site alone.

The Commission also warns against a variation of the phone scam in which a customer might be asked to share sensitive personal and financial details.

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