Some ‘foreign’ numbers are giving missed calls to Kashmiris during midnight and fuelling scam speculations in the rumour-prone valley. When checked, these numbers carry a country code of Saudi Arabia. But a little fact-finding only reveals a familiar cyber con design.
WHEN Syed Musa Ali alias Syber—“ I.T Business Analyst by Day, Cyber security ninja at Night”—received a call from a ‘foreign’ number recently, the first thing he heard was a “Hindi” recording where a girl was talking to a boy.
“This thing spooked me a bit, because this was an international number,” Ali shared his experience on social media, currently witnessing a barrage of comments on the midnight missed call storm in Kashmir.
“When I called it back, I was charged local charges. No international call rates were deducted.”
It’s definitely a bot, Ali, an IT expert, said, because when he called the number back, it was received instantly.
“My advice is, don’t worry,” he continued. “It’s just a noobish scam. Also if you receive any such calls, don’t call back.”
Kashmiri people got missed calls from Saudi Arabia numbers?🤦
— SUFI 💙 (@koshur07) June 9, 2020
What Musa experienced has now become a pan-Kashmir phenomenon.
“Several people complain that they’re getting miss calls from numbers allegedly from Saudi Arabia,” Dr Mairaj M Akram, a Srinagar-based Chemistry lecturer wrote on his social media handle. “I also got few.”
“I got a call yesterday from a different number and the place name displayed was Saudi Arabia,” wrote Asif Shafi, another Facebook user.
As more and more people are getting these so-called ‘Saudi’ calls, many tech-savvies are cautioning Kashmiris not to respond to them.
“Responding to such calls means you’re allowing your mobile operator to collect the charges from you for payment,” they argued.
“In this case, there’s no chance to register International call complaint, too.”
Scammers are reportedly using Caller ID spoofing/IP masking to commit cyber banking frauds/thefts, mostly prefixing +966 (KSA) country code, followed up by a tele script to trick/acquire banking credentials from people in J&K.@Tahir_A strong spam screening systems are required.
— Peer Viqar Ul Aslam (@PeerViqar) June 9, 2020
These missed calls are coming when mobile phone operators in Jammu and Kashmir are already sending warning messages—every now and then—to their users about the unknown international numbers.
But after receiving these calls, many Kashmiris have come to believe that these midnight scandalous calls are being made as per some “new plot” to devour and dry their GSM mobile number balance, and intrude into their bank accounts linked to their mobile numbers.
Amid speculations, however, J&K Cyber Police Chief Tahir Ashraf said that a lot of scam calls have been reported in the valley wherein scammers miss call people and manipulate them to call back.
“It’s an expensive premium route,” SP Tahir told Kashmir Observer. “The longer one will be on call with these scammers, the more money you lose.”
Cyber police, the officer said, is urging people to report this issue to their service providers, so that they can use their defence and security mechanism on this issue as soon as possible.
“On our side,” he said, “we’re raising awareness on radio and Twitter. I urge people to go through it and be aware of such calls. Don’t get curious to call back them. If it’s any international call, please avoid. Go through our twitter handle too.”
— Cyber Police Kashmir (@Cyberpolicekmr) June 9, 2020
Kashmir, however, is not new to such midnight con calls.
In not so distant past, scammers would make repeated ISD calls to Kashmiris, only to leave them awe-struck, announcing: ‘Congratulations! You’ve won a lottery worth millions.’
A long chat with such callers would convince the ‘gullible lots’ regarding their offers. Out of curiosity, many of these users would call back, only to empty their mobile wallet.
Morning talks everywhere…
Bro got missed call from international no. Yesterday. Almost everyone in #Kashmir has got these missed calls…
And as expected no one can beat kashmir in spreading rumors “Dapan agar phone tulakh account gasee khaale”🙏 pic.twitter.com/GPWcAqyp3Z
— Sahil Durani (@SAHILDURRANI5) June 9, 2020
Amid social media reactions over the ‘Saudi call scam’, many are drawing parallels with Japan’s infamous Missed Call Fraud case.
Ten years back, the mobile users would receive a missed or ‘Wangiri’ calls—One Ring and Cut—from unknown International (ISD) numbers. Call back would eat away the user’s mobile balance and leave them high and dry.
This prompted authorities to caution people not to respond to missed calls from unknown numbers prefix other than “+91”.
Am I the only one in #Kashmir, who has received many missed calls from Saudi Arabia since past two days?
— koshur batuk (@koshurbatuk) June 8, 2020
Kashmiris are now getting scam calls from numbers with prefix: +966.
While it’s the country code of Saudi Arabia, the valley-based IT experts said it can be machine-generated code from any other country.
“Today, scammers can generate fake numbers and country codes with the help of some software,” said Rukhsar Pandit, a Srinagar-based Software engineer.
— Shadab Banday (@RoastanJosh) June 9, 2020
But how does it work?
Scammers, Rukhsar said, get an International premium rate number from an operator, before giving missed calls to millions of mobile numbers across the globe during night.
Those who call back ended up having ‘a long and full of offers’ chat, either with machine or human.
“This long alluring talk costs the caller money as per the international premium rate numbers,” Ruksar continued. “One needs to be careful, as even International call complaints can’t refund the robbed money to all.”
And therefore, as a precautionary measure, the IT experts suggest, the mobile users should stay alert and install spam number identification application on their mobile.
Once installed, these mobile applications block the spam numbers and ban the missed call scams.
In a scam-alert article on its official website, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a government-owned telecommunications company, cautions its users that if you dial to any anonymous ISD calls, your prepaid mobile balance will reduce by Rs.60 as the minimum, and up to a maximum of Rs.200.
But if you don’t respond to that ISD missed call, there’s no chance of deduction, it says.
“So,” it cautions, “beware of any ISD Missed call and don’t try to dial any of that type of numbers.”
- Jyotsna Bharti contributed reporting
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