'One Ring' scam: new variation on old phone trick

Heads-up cell phone users: Scammers have cooked up yet another phone scam. It's not a robocall. It's not a sales pitch. In fact, with this scam- when the phone rings, there's no one on the line.

It's called the "One Ring" scam, because the scammers program computers to send blast out thousands of calls to random cell phone numbers, ring once, then disconnect. The objective is to make you curious about a call you missed and return the call right away. This is just a new twist on an old scam that started years ago in Jamaica. The "one ring" variation is believed to have started in Japan.

The calls reported by consumers so far this month have phone numbers from the Caribbean Islands of Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda. If you call back, you're calling a premium rate number that connects you to anything from advertising, to music, to would-be psychics, and even pornography. The longer you stay on the line, the more charges rack up on your phone bill, and the scammers get part of the money.

The scammers are set up as businesses, with permission to bill you through your wireless provider. According to investigators, the inflated per-minute or per-call charges can run in the hundreds of dollars. Since the scam originates overseas, the international phone numbers are not regulated by laws in the United States, and the scammers make sure the numbers are difficult to trace.

If you think you've already fallen for this scam, alert your carrier right away and keep an eye on your cell phone bill. The earlier you document the fraud, the better your chances of having some or all of the charges removed. But again- the best thing to do if your phone rings and you don't recognize the number- is don't answer. And do not call the number back.