Beware of ‘one-ring’ phone scams

I am not an early adopter of new technology. I tend to wait until I am sure that I really need or want it and often the new technology, like the mountain with Mohammed, comes to me without my seeking it, by becoming the default.

I am especially slow when it comes to telephone technology. Maybe it is the result of passive-aggressive behavior on my part since I hate talking on the phone. We did not get an answering machine until our friends complained repeatedly about not being able to reach us and I resisted getting a cell phone until a couple of years ago, and upgraded to a smart phone only when my cell-phone died and my daughter happened to have an iPhone 3 she needed to get rid of following her upgrade to the latest one.

For another example of my slowness, when touch-tone dialing came along, I did not bother to update our perfectly functional rotary phones where the sound quality was far superior to many of the newer phones. (I am sure some people are saying “Rotary phone? What is that?”) I recall the day some friends came to our house with their children and the mother asked one of them to call their home to check on something. The child came back soon with a puzzled look saying that he could not figure out how to dial using our exotic phone.

But as those phones eventually broke down, the new phones came with push-button dialing. But at that time, the default option was pulse, where when the button was pushed, it converted it into a series of pulses that corresponded to rotary dialing. You could subscribe to touch-tone but that cost extra and the couple of seconds taken for the pulse to tone conversion did not bother me. But later, touch-tone became the default and the pulse mode disappeared.

The next upgrade I ignored was caller ID. Again that was an optional extra that I never subscribed to but in a recent speed upgrade to my DSL service with a different company, I discovered that caller ID had become part of the default package. I still am not in the habit of screening calls by checking the number when the phone rings, simply answering it without looking.

But sometimes when the phone rings and stops before I can get to it, I look up the number to see if it was someone I know who called. I do not call back if it is an unfamiliar number, assuming that if it was important enough, they would leave a message.

But I know people who do call back the number of the call they missed. Sometimes I have called someone and hung up, either because I made a mistake dialing or changed my mind. Almost immediately I get a call from that person saying they were returning the call I had made, even though they did not recognize the number and had to ask me who I was.

Via Charlton Stanley, I learn that this habit of calling back a number that you missed can be an expensive mistake. He says that it could be a ‘one-ring scam’ that takes advantage of people’s desire to not miss anything. His article is interesting and worth reading but here’s the key passage.

When you call the “one-ring” number back, you may be placed on hold and told your call will go through momentarily. If you have not hung up by this time, you will be connected to either a sales pitch or a telephone porn site. They will try to run up as many minutes as possible before you catch on and hang up. Those minutes will be at an international rate, plus a tacked on “service charge” for their “service.” Some of these calls can run up big bucks on your phone bill. You can count on a minimum charge of about $20 USD. That is for the international connection, then an additional $9 for each minute you are on the line. Some of these charges have run into hundreds of dollars added to phone bills.

So the lesson is if your phone rings once and stops, don’t call back the number if it is not that of someone you know.

He also issues a warning about the need to lock the box containing the external phone jack that houses in the US have through which the external line connects to the internal line and which most people are unaware of.


  1. says

    But at that time, the default option was pulse, where when the button was pushed, it converted it into a series of pulses that corresponded to rotary dialing. You could subscribe to touch-tone but that cost extra and the couple of seconds taken for the pulse to tone conversion did not bother me. But later, touch-tone became the default and the pulse mode disappeared.

    Here’s a funny story for you: A few years back there was a voltage spike or some such that fried a PC and a couple of cordless phones at my house. I replaced the damaged devices, except for one cordless phone in my basement, which works just fine except for one little glitch — it now automatically converts every keystroke to a pulse-mode signal. That’s not really a problem unless I try to use that phone to call an automated phone-menu system, at which point I suspect someone on the other end is laughing their asses off at the old fogey in the time warp.

  2. Artor says

    Huh. I made the mistake of transferring my land-line number to my cell phone when I made the switch, thinking it would save me from having to give everyone a new number. Unfortunately, that means that all the protections against call lists that normally apply to cell phones don’t work for me. Well over 50% of my incoming calls are robots now. So I never answer my phone unless I recognize the caller, and I never call back a number I don’t know. If there’s no message, there must not be anything important to talk about. I’ve entered the most persistent callers to an entry titled “stupid robot,” so my phone tells me whenever a stupid robot is calling. That can be as much as 6 or 8 times a day.

  3. Chiroptera says

    Huh. I always just assumed that non-messages on my machine were telemarketers who didn’t want to waste their time leaving a sales pitch on a recording device (presumably knowing I would just erase it immediately). I didn’t realize that some of these may actually be a scam.

    By the way, when I first moved to town and set up my phone, most of the calls I got were telemarketers. I finally just turned off the ringer to my phone and occassionally check to see if anyone left a message. The additional benefit is that I also don’t have to talk to friends that I don’t actually want to talk to.

    Yeah, I never warmed to telephone conversations. I find them completely boring. Maybe because I need to see body language and facial expression to maintain interest? I dunno.

  4. mnb0 says

    Ha, I’m worse than you. OK, I probably got touch-tone dialing before you (sound quality in The Netherlands and in Suriname is as good as rotary phones used to provide), but I only bought me a cellular last year and I made very sure it was the simplest and cheapest model available. Even now I have it switched off far more than switched on. I mainly use it to call my son at the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, as it’s much, much cheaper.
    Caller ID? Smart-phone? I wouldn’t know why. See, if you call me at home on my regular phone there is even a small chance I don’t take up the receiver simply because I don’t feel like.

  5. Margaret says

    Hah! Got you beat. I still don’t own a cell phone. I don’t have caller ID either.

  6. wilsim says

    I am an early adopter.

    The one ring thing makes me angry, and my wife and I have been getting them more and more lately. We had to change her number a few years back because she was getting so many telemarketing calls. I think the number she was assigned when we first got her phone had belonged to a business or something at one time.

    I don’t know about IPhones personally, but on my Android any time I get a one ring caller and it is a number I do not recognize I immediately add it to my reject list. IPhones probably have something similar. Any calls from that number will go straight to VM, the phone does not ring, and I do not get disturbed.

    Might be something to look into.

  7. Mano Singham says


    There is thing called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) where some are obsessed with the idea that they might miss something important, however irrational that feeling is.

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