Premium Numbers and Fraud

AurorA has been in the International Telecommunications space since 1994. Route guides for terminating traffic used to be simple; there was a rate per country to terminate a call to a landline telephone and maybe, maybe a second rate to terminate a call to the new cellphones. There were less than 300 lines on the spreadsheet.

Now, there are carriers whose A-to-Z rate sheet can offer thousands of pricing codes; still the landline rate with perhaps some other routes to major cities and a breakout now for each mobile carrier in the country but there are also an increased amount of expensive premium rates that are a potential risk for fraud.

In Canada and the U.S. in the 1990’s there was an explosion in the use of 900 or 976 numbers to offer premium services at a high per minute call rate that would be charged to the caller on their phone bill. Examples included weather reports, psychic hot lines and especially adult (phone sex) chat lines. The high per minute rates could lead to large phone bills very quickly and scammers would use all kinds of tactics to get people to call these numbers as they would get a split of the revenue from the phone company for each call. Consumers and businesses smartened up and blocked 900/976 number and eventually the Internet came and killed that particular market.

Overseas countries still have premium numbers and they live on through various names; Special Services, Non-Geographic Numbers, Universal Numbers, Telematic Services. etc. These numbers are premium in that usually they are at least ten times the rate of normal termination. They can have some legitimate applications; for example non-geographic numbers refers to a remote number, not tied to a physical destination such as if I wanted a Cyprus number to ring to my cellphone when I was elsewhere so my Cyprus customers could reach me.

They can be used for darker purposes though, through a scam called International Revenue Sharing Fraud (IRSF). In IRSF, the carrier in the far end country that owns the number ranges, leverage blocks of numbers they own by applying higher rates and assigning them to resellers outside of the country. Then hackers obtain these numbers, attack PBX’s and IP PBX’s and then machine generate calls. They then share the burst of revenue generated with the carrier in the country that owned these numbers providing a quick source of cash.

So how can you protect yourself ? It comes down to your own dial plan. You want to make sure that you don’t allow access to any premium numbers with such creative names like those listed above. Secondly , when choosing what international carrier to use to terminate your traffic with, beware of those whose own dial plans are riddled with such premium ranges, even if they seem to have low rates otherwise. It may be an arbitrage ambush. If they have many more premium pricing breakouts that do not exist on other carriers rate sheets you should avoid them. It doesn’t take many calls to the premium numbers to swamp any anticipated savings from using their “low” per-minute rates.

Choose to use a quality, reputable carrier for who you trust with your overseas calls.
Don’t be like those people in the photo when your bill comes in.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.

Also, thanks to Robert Benlolo of Tata whose expertise in this field provided me with guidance.

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