System needed to stop fraud by scammers using IP phone numbers

An increasing number of scams in which victims are tricked into transferring money have occurred using phone numbers starting with 050. It is important to take necessary measures to stop such phone numbers from being used as a tool for crimes.

Phone numbers starting with 050 are for IP phones, which transmit communications over the internet. Such phone numbers have spread rapidly due to low fees and simple contract procedures to obtain them. There are about 9 million 050 numbers currently in use.

Since a few years ago, fraud cases using 050 numbers have become conspicuous. In the first half of last year, such cases accounted for 25% of phone-related fraud.

In past bank transfer scams, prepaid or rented mobile phones were often used because it is difficult to identify the users. After the enactment of a law on preventing the improper use of mobile phones that requires carriers to verify the identity of users, scammers are said to have turned to landline phones and 050 numbers to commit fraud.

A 050 number can be obtained by going online and simply entering information such as a credit card number. One reason such phone numbers are used in scams is likely that identity verification is insufficient.

Following an increase in scams using IP phones, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the National Police Agency at the end of last year requested telephone companies to suspend services for the 050 numbers that were used in fraud cases and provide subscriber information to the police.

Over 3,000 landline phone numbers yearly have been disconnected since 2019 for the same reason. It is only natural that the same measure has been taken for IP phone numbers, since scam cases using 050 numbers have been on the rise.

Scam groups, however, frequently change phone numbers. Suspending services for related numbers after criminal activities are discovered is unlikely to completely resolve the problem.

To hide their identities, members of many scam groups avoid directly contracting with major phone carriers, instead obtaining phone numbers that have been resold through multiple resellers.

In addition to lax identity verification, the resale of phone numbers has made it difficult to identify the culprits. It is indispensable to have a system in place in which phone numbers are tied to actual users’ information.

Administrative organizations and related industries must work together to implement thorough identity verification and stricter regulations on resales.

The situation regarding bank transfer scams remains serious, with over ¥20 billion defrauded last year.

Phone numbers used in scams are not only those starting with 050. When receiving a call from an unknown number asking for payment, it is important that people deal with the matter by maintaining their suspicion.

The police must make utmost efforts to crack down on scam groups while also repeatedly calling on people to take preventive measures against falling victim to such fraud.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 13, 2022.