Calls from random, unknown numbers are something that almost everyone has experienced. Scammers are on the other end of the line when you pick up the phone.
They claim to be Microsoft employees and ask for assistance with a technical issue, or they make claims about high EuroMillions winnings or their child being ill and in need of money right away for medical care. The police scam is also used again and again for scam calls.
With rufnummermissbrauch.at, the regulatory authority RTR operates a website where people can report such calls. Last month, there were already 1,254 reports. The numbers have been consistently high since the beginning of the year. The number of people whose phone numbers have been compromised is also sharply increasing: 2,229 people reported their phone numbers had been misused to RTR this month; the number of unreported cases is much higher. These people receive numerous calls from disgruntled individuals who claim to have been called from their number.
Sabine L. (name known to the editors) is also currently affected by this. Numerous calls from unknown callers were made to her every day. “This is new to the scam that fraudsters*innen now mainly use numbers that exist,” says Thorsten Behrens, division manager of the information platform Watchlist Internet, where numerous concerned people came forward.
Criminals disguise themselves with call ID spoofing.
This means that call numbers are not always shown correctly on the display for incoming calls. This method is called “call ID spoofing.” Criminals disguise their actual phone numbers and pretend that they are behind an Austrian number that exists. This is technically possible because it is allowed according to international regulations of mobile operators.
“Technically, the telephone number of the calling telephone line is not necessary for the successful establishment of a telephone connection. This can be compared to a postcard on which you write a wrong sender or no sender at all. Such postcards are also successfully delivered,” RTR states as an explanation of the problem.
This is annoying for those affected, such as Sabine L., whose number has been misused. “Our tip is: wait and see. The numbers are often only used for a short time. “In most cases, you do not need to change your phone number,” says Behrens, “but if the problem persists, we recommend contacting your mobile phone company.” It is probably then advisable to change the phone number.”
Sabine L. has asked her cell phone provider, who has offered her an individual solution to the problem that does not require changing the number.
What the mobile operators advise
A1 recommends contacting customer service for advice in the event of misuse if the problem persists for a long time. In most cases, however, waiting two to three days before the calls stop on their own is sufficient.
Three explained that they are “strictly regulated technically and legally,” and therefore have no technical remedy for the problem. “We can only offer customers to change the number here, but point out that this is usually not necessary,” it says.
On the other hand, Magenta primarily focuses on raising awareness and refers to reporting abuse to RTR.
The problem itself has been going on for months. Again and again, people fall for the scams of fraudsters who use call ID spoofing. For this reason, RTR is currently working on an amendment to take action against call number abuse.
A regulation is planned for this year, according to the authority. “The regulatory authority’s draft stipulates that Austrian operators will have to verify the phone number when calls are made from abroad using Austrian phone numbers,” said State Secretary for Digitization Florian Tursky (ÖVP), explaining the plans. Mobile operators have not yet been able to comment on the planned technical measures because they do not have the ordinance. Since the problem does not only affect Austria, they would also work on cross-border actions, Tursky said.
Sabine L. wondered whether she might have incurred costs because her number had been misused. Behrens denies this: “The number is only simulated. The criminals don’t use the line for their fraudulent calls.”
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