Sierra Leone (aka Wangiri/One Ring) Scam Calls: How to Protect Yourself

What to do about calls from the 232 country code

What to Know

  • A Wangiri scam call (aka Sierra Leone or 'one ring scam') is a robocall from a phone number with the 232 country code.
  • The call has the sole purpose of tricking you into talking on the phone and accruing significant fees that the scammer collects.
  • Never answer these calls or return calls to this area code, even when the call comes in several times in just a few minutes.

This article explains in detail how this common phone scam works.

Why Is It Called The Wangiri or One Ring Scam?

Unlike many other telephone and online scams which have the aim of collecting personal information or scamming you out of money, this particular scam works by tricking the victim into calling a premium phone number and keeping them on the line for as long as possible.

While the call originates these days from a Sierra Leone area code, it originated in Japan. The phrase 'Wangiri' means "one and cut" in Japanese, which has been shortened to 'one ring scam' internationally. These calls can be from any country, really, but they do employ the 232 area code linked to Sierra Leone.

Similar to the high fee premium numbers that were all the rage back in the 80s and 90s, the numbers used in this scam work in much the same way and can charge you for both making the call and for each minute that you stay connected.

How Does the Scam Work?

These scammers typically make use of robocall technology to quickly call potential victims and then hang up either before they have the chance to answer the phone or as soon as they do.

The robocaller often calls two or three times in quick succession which can create the impression that the call is urgent and also allows them to break through a smartphone’s Do Not Disturb settings after hours.

The 232 area code used in these phone call scams is the Sierra Leone country code.

The scam relies on the potential victim not noticing that the call comes from a number with the Sierra Leone country code and then calling the 232 area code number back.

The numbers used in this scam usually incur extremely high fees that charge by the minute so the scammer will attempt to keep you on the line for as long as possible by discussing a completely fabricated situation such as knowing a sick relative, having a parcel they want to deliver, or by needing urgent help. Scammers may also play an audio recording of someone in distress.

In some situations, a chatbot may be used to keep you engaged in a cyclic conversation. Such chatbots are similar to ones used by Twitch streamers but use audio instead of text and may repeat words that you say in another voice or ask you seemingly random questions.

How Do One Ring Scammers Find Victims?

Wangiri scammers often incorporate robocalls into their strategy which allow them to call high volumes of people at once. Because of this, they don’t usually target specific individuals and instead cast as wide of a net as possible by calling as many numbers as possible.

Phone numbers used in a 232 area code scam are often simply pulled from public phone number listings, such as the phone book, though they can also be grabbed from online social media profiles or obtained via a database hack.

A conceptual illustration of a Sierra Leone scammer.
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved in This Scam?

To protect yourself from the one ring scam, all you need to do is refrain from answering or calling back phone calls that contain the 232 area code. If such a phone call is legitimate or urgent, a caller would leave a voicemail explaining exactly what the situation is.

It’s also important to remember that if someone was in actual trouble, it’s extremely unlikely that they would call you, a complete stranger in a foreign country, for help. They would, and should, call the local authorities.

Both iPhone and Android smartphones have settings for automatically blocking or silencing calls from phone numbers not in your address book or contact list. You can also contact your carrier to disable outgoing international calls if you’re concerned about accidentally calling an expensive scam number back.

I’m Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you’ve been scammed or tricked into calling back a Wangiri scam number and have received a high level of bill shock recently, you may be able to get the associated fee cleared by contacting your telephone company and explaining the situation. If you can’t get the bill reversed, you can file a complaint with the FCC.

Regardless of whether you can get reimbursed or not, you should also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. You can also submit additional reports to the FBI and ICCC.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted for the Wangiri Scam?

The best way to avoid being the target of a one ring scam call, or any other scam call for that matter, is to keep your phone number as private as possible. If you can, make your phone number unlisted so that it’s not added to any online or offline number directories, try to remove it from any online profiles that you have it on, and register it on the National Do Not Call List website.

If you’re planning on getting a new mobile phone, try and get one with a completely new, unused, phone number. Obtaining an old phone number is just asking for trouble as it’s almost guaranteed to already be within a variety of scammers’ call lists.