Call back at your own risk
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair Delia Rickard said Scamwatch received reports of similar scams last year, but only three involved phone calls from Ascension Island.
She said it was likely the Carrington family were victims of a wangiri scam, a Japanese word loosely translated to “one cut”.
“What typically happens is the scammer calls for just one ring then cuts the line leaving a missed call on the victim’s phone,” she said.Photo: Leo Carrington received 15 missed calls from an Ascension Island number before his family called back. (Supplied)
“Then the victim calls the number back and they could be put on hold, have music playing or they could try and chat.
“The objective is to keep them on the phone for as long as possible.”
Ms Rickard said scammers made their money by enticing people to call back a premium number similar to those used by psychic hotlines and sex lines.
“There’s a complicated billing structure but people are charged more when they’re communicating over these numbers and the money makes its way back to the scammer,” she said.
Australians lost $48,830 to premium service scam calls and texts in the past 12 months.
To avoid extra charges on your phone bill, Ms Rickard recommended ignoring calls from country codes you don’t recognise and from 19 or 1900 numbers in Australia.
“That’s an indication that it’s a premium number and it’s going to cost you extra to be calling that number.”
Blocking problematic phone numbers and not returning missed calls from unknown numbers can help you avoid becoming a victim.
“The other thing that we know in the past about premium services is sometimes if you call your mobile provider and tell them what’s happened, you won’t end up having to pay the charge,” Ms Rickard said.
“Some mobile providers are prepared to do that, so it’s worth a try if you want your money back.”