20131231 - WARNING OF INCREASE IN TELEPHONE BASED SCAMSSecurity experts in spain have warned that throughout the Christmas and New Year period, there has been a stark increase in the number of fraudulent SMS messages and telephone calls, designed to trick the recipient into subscribing to premium rate services.

In particular, there has been an increase in messages sent to mobile phones from the number 25568. These messages masquerade as a messenger service such as WhatsApp or sometimes voicemail, telling the recipient that they have a new message and you have to reply in order to receive it. This is a scam as there is no such message and by replying you instigate a subscription to a high rate service, some of which have been known to charge over 30 euro per month.

This is a similar scam to one highlighted in August, when messages were received from the number 25655, claiming to be from Facebook users, with natural sounding messages such as “I saw you on Facebook. Hope you do not mind that I speak, do you have WhatsApp?”, again, tricking the recipient into replying, that process being all that is needed to start the subscription.

The second biggest increase in scams has affected both mobiles and landlines, with calls being received from a number starting with 905, seemingly a normal telephone number. The system bombards the recipient, who assumes that somebody is urgently trying to get hold of them, prompting the victim to innocently return the call to the number, a number which is a premium rate line and thus subjects the caller to a high cost for the unnecessary call.

Some time ago, we published a handy guide to the different numbers which operate on premium rate services, most of which operate fully within the guidelines set out by the government, most of which offer services which the genuine users subscribe to by choice, but the advice offered to those not intending to subscribe is to simply ignore messages or calls that you don´t recognise.

The first thing to note, they say, is that only calls with the prefix 900 and 800 are free, remembering that we are talking about normal, fixed land line tariffs.

If you call a number that begins with 900 or 800, the call will be free to you as it is paid for by a third party, usually the company you are calling. However, to reduce their costs, some companies block calls from certain places, for example, a company that only offers a local service can block their number from being used by somebody outside their geographical catchment.

When you dial a number beginning with 901, you pay a portion of the call cost, usually the equivalent of a local call, and the owner of the number pays the rest.

If you dial a 902 number, it is you that pays the full cost of the call, which is usually the equivalent to an interprovincial or national call rate. Numbers beginning with 902 are common for customer service centres, although electricity and gas companies are required to have a free phone number.

To emphasise the point, problems often occur when these calls are made from the increasingly popular mobile network, often used instead of landlines these days, but are not usually covered by the mobile tariff plan. If the call lasts a long time, such as being put on hold, then the price can quickly escalate.

Now we move onto premium rate numbers, often used to provide a service during the call, and the cost is usually shared between the company providing that service and the telephone company.

Each of these premium rate services are defined by the first 3 digits. Calls beginning with 803 are “adult” services, such as chat lines or dating services. Those with the prefix 806 are for entertainment, such as tarot readings, games etc. The prefix 807 is for a professional service, such as a doctor or consultants. Telephone numbers with 905 at the start are for “televoting”, such as the type of call used in X-Factor or similar tv events, usually with a fixed cost amount per call.

There is also a secret price guide hidden in the fourth digit of these numbers. The higher that number, the more you pay. So much so, if that fourth digit is higher than a 6, is usually requires special authorisation by your telephone service provider. As always, call from a mobile will be even more expensive, but as the costs to these numbers are already high, the difference is not as great as in the 901 or 902 series.

One final mention has to be to the directory enquiry services, now all grouped together under the 118 prefix, and often with just a short number after that. Each service can effectively set its own price, with some charging up to 4 euro per minute and this price also increases when they offer the courteous “Would you like me to connect you?” question, for which you pay more and they cream a portion of that fee. For these services, although they are in Spanish mostly, it is always best to check the small print that must accompany advertising for each of them, or better still, if you´re looking for a local trader, just flick through the pages of The Leader and find one with ease, and without the cost of a premium rate call.

If you have fallen victim to one of these scams, there is a procedure for reporting it, as described on the official website, http://www.usuariosteleco.es/comoreclamar/Paginas/index.aspx, but that procedure is quite long winded and wherever possible the best option is to be aware of the dangers and avoid becoming a victim of this type of crime.