Nicola Mawson. Picture: Matthews Baloyi
There's a missed-call scam doing the rounds, and cellphone operators are warning consumers not to return calls from international numbers.

Both MTN and Cell C have communicated with customers, warning them not to return missed calls from unknown international numbers as they could fall victim to a premium rated scam.

Neither one of the companies explained just how the so-called Wangiri Fraud doing the rounds will affect their pockets – and how much these calls will add to your bill.

Read also: Missed-call phone scam

The scam, which originated in Japan, means “one ring and cut”.

It involves the random calling of mobile numbers, which are dialled once and appear as missed calls. Should you fall for the con and phone back, you are charged a premium rate, or you get spammed. has verified the scam, although disputed the amount some people allege they pay per minute – £50 (R796).

South Africa is not alone in being targeted.

Last year, the UK’s Independent reported that mobile phone customers are being charged as much as £300 for calls they insist they never made.

Apparently, the victims denied making calls to unfamiliar numbers, which started with 0845 or 0853.

The Independent explains that customers are rarely given the chance to answer, because the call lasts less than a fraction of a second, and comes up as a missed call.

Despite that, these unsuspecting users then received large bills showing they called the number back, with calls lasting between three and 12 hours.

“Victims had no recollection of calling the number, and others said they did not even see the missed call,” the UK publication reported.

It also added that – at that time – it wasn’t clear exactly how the scammers ran up such huge phone bills.


Wangiri dates back to 2014, and seems to be different to the one that The Independent reported – in that you need to call the number back. Which is a good thing.

However, what is concerning is that South Africans may be especially vulnerable to this scam. Cellphone penetration – counted as the number of active SIM cards – is now well above 100percent.

And that means South Africans generally carry around more than one SIM – a SIM for a dongle, the phone, the tablet, your work phone, and likely your children’s phones. Although cellphone companies are pushing hard to bring down the cost of voice and data – they have to because they need to grow their revenue streams – this is still a major bugbear.

Consider the outrage around consumers finding themselves with huge data bills, and then blaming the operators for somehow magicing away their data.

Read also: 'Data disappearance does not exist'

The Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association has debunked that data simply disappears, saying it’s a case of people using more data – and spending less on voice calls.

Let’s face it – whether you get scammed by a premium rated number, or spend all day on Facebook – a huge bill isn’t good news.

It’s not good news for cash-strapped consumers, which means it’s not good news for the economy, because the less you have to spend on one area, the less you have to invest in another.

Which is why I’m super chuffed to see so much data competition coming in. All over my neighbourhood, signs are going up proclaiming that fibre is coming.

And operators will have to respond to that challenge by dropping prices.

The latest in the fibre wars game is Google, which – like Facebook – is rolling out fibre in Africa.

That means more people can get online, at a cheaper rate, and benefit from the information and access that the internet offers. They can use the internet to learn, to find job opportunities, or to market themselves and earn an income.

And that’s good news for SA Inc. But, whatever you do, don’t return that dodgy missed call.

Nicola Mawson is the online editor of Business Report. Follow her on Twitter @NicolaMawson or Business Report @busrep.