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New cost traps for smartphone users: malicious apps initiate expensive phone calls

"We recently have seen a new trick being used to rip off smartphone users: apps automatically call expensive value-added phone numbers without the knowledge or consent of the user. Last month we had several conciliation procedures concerning this problem and I'm afraid there will be more such cases", Mr Gungl, CEO of RTR's Telecommunications and Postal Services Division, said.

Value-added numbers called automatically during the night

In the conciliation procedures, RTR's conciliation body analysed the call data, finding that calls to an Austrian value-added number (0930 xxx xxx) were initiated automatically, without the phones' users noticing it. It was striking that only users of mobile communications were affected. The calls to the value-added number were initiated on different days at about the same time, i.e. during the second half of the respective nights.
"The fact that only users of mobile telecommunications have been affected points to a malicious app", Mr Gungl said. "Apps can initiate phone calls – provided that permissions are set accordingly. If the numbers called are value-added numbers – as it was the case in the complaints dealt with – this may quickly result in high bills", Mr Gungl warns A single call minute may cost up to EUR 3.64.

 Cost-free blocking of value-added numbers

"Unfortunately it is unclear which apps caused the problems; for this reason, prevention is particularly important", Mr Gungl said, "we recommend customers to have calls to value-added numbers blocked by their operators, which is free of charge, and to install virus scanners on their smartphone. In addition, apps should only be bought from official app stores."
Customers who discover suspicious value-added numbers listed on their bills are advised to send a written complaint to their service providers. If a complaint is not successful, customers may contact RTR's conciliation body. "We have informed mobile service providers about our suspicion. Two of them have already taken protective measures", Mr Gungl reports, "In addition, we have filed criminal charges against persons unknown."
Information on the blocking of value-added numbers is available on RTR's website at https://www.rtr.at/en/tk/TKKS_Sperren (German only).