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OK, mobile phone lovers, let’s start with an oldie but a goodie: cut-off calls that cost.

The frequency of reports on this little doozey are hard to ignore. In fact, it has become such a problem, that in some areas, mobile networks are getting jammed with ‘wangiri’ calls. ‘Wangiri’ is derived from the English word ‘one’ (or ‘wan’ as it is pronounced in Japanese phonetics) and ‘kiru’, which means ‘to cut’. In other words, a ‘wangiri’ call, is a call that is cut off or hung up after 1 ring.

Here’s how this little scam works: the potential victim receives a call from an unknown origin (which, in many cases, happens to be a computer capable of dialing thousands of numbers each minute). The unsuspecting recipient’s phone will ring once and then it will stop. Intrigued by who may have called, the recipient returns the call only to hear an adult entertainment recording. Now, although a little bit of adult entertainment might not be so bad in itself, the caller-turned-victim is charged an exorbitant rate for this phone call.

A good rule of thumb for avoiding wangiri victimization is self evident: don’t return calls to unknown phone numbers.

But what happens if you are constantly dealing with business calls on your phone and usually have to return calls from customers? One suggestion is to enter the 184 prefix upon returning a call to cloak your phone number. This will help prevent scam artists from landing you with a big fat undeserved bill. Another solution is to use the ‘step tone’ ringer function, if you have one. This function renders an incoming phone call inaudible for the first ring but gets progressively louder. Although this does prevent you from immediately returning a call, it does little in the way of identifying a call as a wangiri.

Beginning in October 2002, when it became apparent that these nasty wangiri calls were becoming a serious issue, the Japanese government began revising the Wire Telecommunications Law, to enact penal provisions for wangiri perpetrators. The problem with these provisions, as per any action targeting criminal activity, is that the offenders first be found before they can be prosecuted.

The nation’s phone companies have also attempted to address this problem. For instance, Docomo has approached the issue by providing a service that allows users to measure how long any particular caller rang for. This service thus identifies any one or two second calls as possible wangiri.
At present, preventative measure to shut down these wangiri predators remains elusive. Until the invention of some sort of scam seeking missile, do yourself a big favor and resist the urge to return a call from any unknown callers. Like my mother always said: ‘forewarned is forearmed’.

Watch this space for updates and countermeasures you can implement to decrease your scam susceptibility.