When a Stranger Calls

When a Stranger Calls 2

I was woken in the early hours of Sunday morning, February 27th, by a brief shrill ring.

My eyes were drawn to the flashing light of my mobile phone. Upon checking it I discovered I had just missed a call. The caller hadn’t given me much of a chance to answer as they had allowed for less than one full ring. At first glance the number appeared to be an Irish 086 one but seemed to have too many digits. In no mood to return a call at an hour when even dairy farmers are out cold, I switched off the phone and returned to my slumber.

The following morning, my curiosity led me to check the web in order to find the source of the call. The country code, (386), I discovered, was Slovenia. “Who do I know in Slovenia?” I wondered. Drawing a blank, I shrugged it off as a wrong number and thought no more of it.

Later that day, a friend brought it up in conversation that he too had been awoken in the same manner. We compared the numbers of our respective callers and, save for the last four digits, they were identical. That evening, during the weekly call from my mother, she revealed that a similar number had appeared in her ‘missed call’ log. This was no longer a coincidence.

To get to the bottom of this, I consulted the website whocallsme.com where I was confronted with a litany of reports from Irish mobile users who had received these mysterious calls. All the calls had originated in Slovenia and seemed to specifically target those with 087 numbers, regardless of what network they were on. Some had called back the number and reported hearing “girls laughing and chatting in a foreign language”. It seemed as though an elaborate scam was being pulled to fool Irish mobile users into placing calls to a premium number based in Slovenia, with charges of up to €2 per minute.

Since then, ComReg, Ireland’s Telecommunications Regulator, have issued a statement regarding the incident. They ensure that Irish mobile users targeted by the scam will not be left out of pocket as they work with the country’s four mobile networks to ensure refunds are issued to those affected. The numbers responsible in question have been blocked by ComReg but new numbers can still make it through. On Friday 15th February, several 087 users reported similar calls from numbers originating in Lithuania. A spokesperson for the regulator gave the following advice “If you see a number you don’t recognise, and there’s no accompanying message explaining who the caller is, be vigilant and wary about it and do not call back”.

By Eric Hillis