Friday 21 January 2011

Interesting form of cellular roaming fraud in Ukraine?

When my father was recently in Ukraine, he used his Australian mobile phone to make a few calls from the Kiev airport to my mobile phone in London without any problems. We chatted for a while.

When I tried to call him back shortly after on the same number, I got connected to what seemed like a wrong number, with some Russian lady answering the phone and then telling me to hold on, while she put the receiver down and went to call someone to the phone.

The call went something along the lines of (in Russian):

Me: Hello?
Receiver: Hello, one minute please....
Receiver: background noise, etc.
Receiver: background noise, people speaking in the background, etc.
Receiver: Periodically the woman picks up the receiver and tells to wait for a bit more
Receiver: repeating background noise, people speaking in the background, etc.

I think you get the idea...

After a minute or so of waiting, I hung up and redialled my dad's number -- same thing, same woman, same script.

I called the third time and this time I didn't say anything when the call was answered by the same person.

After a few seconds pause, and with me still saying nothing, the same script as above was played over again.

In between these calls, we've exchanged legitimate SMSes, so I know my father's phone was in his possession, I just couldn't get through to him -- something on the cellular network was seemingly intercepting my calls and redirecting to this answering machine.

If you think about it, this is a brilliant money making scheme -- any enterprising telco. engineer and with access to the DC and/or call routing software, could easily program the equipment to redirect calls to some number and play back a pre-recorded WAV file.

Needless to say, these fraudulent calls appeared on my O2 mobile bill as well as on my father's Telstra bill (e.g.):

Some outbound calls appear on my bill, but not on my dad's however, and vice versa.

I must say that I raised the matter with O2 and while initially they were reluctant to get involved, after I made a formal complaint, I got a positive response and a credit on the account for the relevant calls. However, O2 have made it very clear that they had no control over the corresponding roaming partner overseas.

My father is yet to raise this matter with Telstra...

In this particular case, the money involved isn't the issue, the issue is that there appears to be no documented record of this type of fraud. Maybe it is very common, but people are just no reporting it or maybe it is being hushed up by the telco. industry. Maybe it is only taking place in Ukraine?

I searched around for a while using Google, asked my friends, etc. but no one has experienced anything like this. Please feel free to comment if you know of anyone who experienced a similar issue...

--- ab

No comments: