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FCC says ‘one-ring’ phone hustle in operation again

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s called the “Wangiri” or “one-ring” scam, popular several years ago but back with a vengeance, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

If you get caught by this robocall fraud, your phone bill could end up with sizable toll charges.

It starts with a one-ring call and then a hang-up, often followed by multiple similar calls that come in the middle of the night, the FCC says. (‘Wangiri’ is the Japanese word for this scam.)

Recent reports show that many of the calls appear to come from a “222” number, which is the country code of Mauritania but could be mistaken for the 212 number for New York City.

The perpetrators of this fraud use a code similar to those in the U.S. to confuse their targets. Other examples are the “232” exchange for Sierra Leone and the “809” code for the Dominican Republic.

The idea is to get you to return the phone call, but if you do, you might end up connected to a number outside the U.S. That could mean a fee for connecting, plus per-minute charges for the time the scammers keep you on the phone. You won’t know you’ve been hit until you get your bill and see charges related to premium services, international calling or toll-free calling. Most of the money will go to the scammer, the Federal Trade Commission says.

Variations of this scam rely on phony voice-mail messages urging you to call a number with an unfamiliar area code to “schedule a delivery” or to notify you about a “sick” relative, the FCC says.

You can protect yourself in the following ways:

• Don’t answer or return any calls from numbers you don’t recognize.

• Check your phone bill for charges you don’t recognize.

• Before calling unfamiliar numbers, check to see if the area code is international.

• If you do not make international calls, ask your phone company to block outgoing international calls on your line.

• Always be cautious, even if a number appears authentic.

If you do get charges as a result of this scam, first try to talk to your phone company. If you are unable to resolve it directly, you can file a complaint with the FCC at no cost. Do so at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov or by phone at 1-888-225-5322.

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A special message for Bank of the West customers: Scammers are using warnings about fraud to, well, commit fraud.

Here’s how it’s happening, according to an alert from the bank. Customers have reported getting calls that appear to be from a Bank of the West phone number, seeking personal account information, including username, password, account numbers and debit card information.

In some cases, the callers are faking details about potential fraud on your account “to trick you into giving additional information.

“Their goal is to gather enough personal information to commit actual fraud on your account,” according to the company.

Sometimes, the fraudsters are plying their trade through fake emails.

Bank of the West reminds customers that it will never ask for your password. And it says many banks have been seeing “a high volume of fraud attempts at this time.”

If you get one of these, you can report it to Bank of the West at 800-488-2265, option 3.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.

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