You may have heard of phishing – the fraudulent act of sending out emails, which pretend to be from a reputable company, in an attempt to obtain personal information such as bank account details, social security numbers, or credit card details. But you may not yet have heard of vishing. Vishing or voice phishing is a similar type of scam but using telephone calls rather than emails, in an attempt to dupe unsuspecting victims into giving up money or confidential information. The practice is becoming common all over the world and has seen excessive activity in some countries, such as Thailand.
After a recent revival of vishing scams in Thailand, some of the country’s top Telecommunications companies have been instructed to jam 50 phone numbers which have repeatedly been used by fraudulent callers to con their victims out of money. The service providers have been allowed just eight weeks to devise a system to prevent caller-ID faking using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
The mandate was issued in January 2018 after a meeting was held between the Royal Thai Police, the Thai National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), and the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo), as well as six major Thai telecom service providers. According to Thai authorities, the groups agreed on several strategies to protect consumers from transnational vishing gangs who have been using VoIP networks.
The groups of scammers have been trying to dupe their victims by using numbers that belonged to courthouses, police stations, and post offices. They were making the calls from VoIP networks and using software to conceal the original caller ID. The number that the recipient sees is a fake number.
The scammers pretend to be state officials, police officers, or bank clerks. They make false accusations against their unsuspecting victims about debts or drugs to try to intimidate them into giving up money or their personal information.
Though the six telecom companies have been ordered to block the scam numbers, they must also come up with a more permanent solution. Their answer is to create a system which will maintain a record of all calls made using VoIP networks and to detect the caller’s real identity. This system is supposed to be in place by the beginning of April 2018. Henceforth, all incoming calls using the VoIP network mush show their real caller ID so that people who receive the calls can verify them. Within two months, the whole system will be completely upgraded, and gangs using fake numbers will no longer be able to operate.
The six Thailand telecommunications providers involved in the task force are Triple T Broadband (3BB), CAT Telecom, TOT, Total Access Communication (DTAC), Advanced Info Service (AIS), and True Move. So far fifty numbers have been logged as being used to scam victims. Since December 2017, eleven Thai victims were conned out of a total of 8 million baht. Thai authorities were able to retrieve 1.6 million baht from the scammers and return it to the victims.
How the Thai Vishing Scams Typically Work
The scammer, posing as a bank employee or police officer informs the call recipient that he or she is suspected of having committed a money-related crime, such as laundering money. The scammer then asks the victim for information to verify their innocence and instructs them to go to an ATM to perform a “checking procedure.” The scammers tell the victim that the procedure is to prevent them from having their bank account frozen. However, the procedure results in the victim unwittingly transferring money into an account set up by the vishing gang.
The police warn that the gangs frequently change their tactics. Some of the more recent scams have involved the use of forged arrest warrants. The police have issued more than 200 real arrest warrants for members of vishing gangs, and so far, 162 perpetrators have been arrested.
In a related incident, the Thai police have been investigating several commercial banks after a 24-year-old Thai woman, Nicha Kiartthanapaiboon, allegedly had her identity stolen. Ms. Nicha reported that identity thieves used her ID card to open nine accounts within seven different banks. The scammers used the account to handle money which was obtained through a call center scam. Ms. Nicha was charged in connection with the crime, although she maintains her innocence. Thai authorities are investigating the commercial banks where the accounts were opened to assess if the financial institutions were negligent in following the proper authentication processes. If the banks are found to have flouted the rules, they can face fines of up to 1 million baht.
The New Wave of Vishing Scams
No matter what country you live in, you can still be targeted by vishing scammers. It is important to note that this type of scam is becoming more and more sophisticated. These days just by answering a scammer with a simple “yes,” can lead to unwanted subscription charges, call charges, and sign-ups that will be billed on your next monthly bank statement. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of caller ID spoofing is to know what to look out for so you can avoid giving your personal information to the wrong people.
How to Catch a Vish
Vishing scammers often offer services, products or fake prizes which are grossly exaggerated, before asking for your personal information to get money out of you. Red flags include:
- An offer from a company you do not do business with, or you have never heard of
- A notification that you have won a prize from a competition you did not enter
- Assurance of unrealistic returns on your money
- Pressure to make an immediate decision or to follow instructions such as:
- Give money
- Give up personal information
- Give banking details
- Give information about your business
- Threats (such as fines or legal action) if you fail to provide the information requested
- Unprofessional manner or language
- Unsolicited calls with offers to help you with unpaid taxes or other debt
You can find out more about vishing, phishing, and other kinds of scams at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).