Commonwealth logo, ACCC Logo and Scamwatch banner

SCAMwatch homeMobile phone scamsMissed calls & text messages from unknown numbers

Missed calls & text messages from unknown numbers

What are scams using missed calls and text messages from unknown numbers?

Missed call scams start by ringing your phone and hanging up so quickly that you can’t answer the call in time. Your phone registers a missed call and you probably won’t recognise the number. People will often then call the number back to find out who it is. Apart from being a nuisance, the missed call can lead to a scam in two ways:

  • The number you call back may be redirected to a premium rate service (a number that starts with 190) without your knowledge, which means you will be charged a lot of money per minute.
  • The number may tell you that you have won a prize of some sort and give you another number to call to ‘claim’ your prize, but they may not tell you how much the call will cost. This second number may be a premium rate number, again charging you a lot of money to get your ‘prize’. Your prize may be nothing more than a ring tone subscription—which can also be a scam!

Text message scams work by sending you a text message from a number you may not recognise, but the content of the message could sound like it’s from a friend—for instance ‘Hi, it’s John. I’m back! When do you want to catch up?’ or ‘Hey big fella, happy birthday!’.

Another common tactic is for a text message to sound like someone flirting with you. Many people reply asking who it is and end up engaging in a lengthy SMS exchange with the scammer. Only later do they find out that they have been charged a high rate both for messages they sent (sometimes there are also charges for messages received as well).

Warning signs

  • You receive a ‘missed call’ from a number that you don’t recognise.
  • You didn’t hear your phone ring.
  • The number starts with 190 (which is a premium rate service).
  • You receive a text message from a number you don’t recognise, but which sounds like it’s from a friend.
  • If you return a missed call, a recorded message asks you to dial a different number (often starting with 190) but the cost of the call is not clearly stated.

Protect yourself from scams using missed calls and text messages from unknown numbers

  • It is best not to respond to text messages or missed calls that come from numbers you don’t recognise.
  • Be careful of phone numbers beginning with 190. These are charged at a premium rate and can be very expensive.
  • Look out for SMS and MMS numbers that start with 19. These are charged at a premium rate (sometimes even for receiving a message) and can be very expensive.

As well as following these specific tips, find out how to protect yourself from all sorts of other scams.

Do your homework

If you receive a text message which sounds like it’s from a friend but comes from a number that you don’t recognise—DO NOT reply. Check the number: Is it a premium number beginning with 19 or 190? Is the message signed? If it is, do you know anybody by that name?

Ask your friends whether they called you or sent you the text message.

Try entering the 19 number into the 19SMS website to find out who owns that number.

If you still want to return a missed call or reply to a text message from an unknown number, you should be aware that some numbers have very high charges. You could also end up with a huge phone bill if you engage in a text message conversation with a number that charges you for messages sent as well as received, or if you dial a premium rate number.

To find out more about mobile premium services, visit 'Ring tones and other mobile premium services' on the ACCC website or 'Mobile premium services - information for consumers' on the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) website.


If you do receive a missed call or text message from a number that you don’t recognise, it is usually best not to reply or call back. If somebody really wants to speak to you, they will call you back or leave you a voicemail message.

If you do reply to a scammer, it only shows that you are interested and you could then receive loads of similar messages and calls.

Report them

If you have received such a call or text, or if you have returned the call or text and you now realise it is a scam, you can report it through the SCAMwatch website and to your phone company. Your telephone company may also be able to put a bar on premium rate services from and to your phone (190 numbers). You should also spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

Australia has laws regulating the sending of commercial SMS messages. For more information about spam in Australia or to make a complaint a commercial text message you think may be spam, visit 'Spam & e-Security' on the ACMA website.


What to do if you've been scammed; Scams & the law; Report a scam.

Similar scams:

Misleading offers for ‘free’ or cheap ring tones that end up being a subscription or premium rate service.

You are encouraged to enter a competition or trivia contest over SMS for a great prize – but misled about your chances or how much it will cost to take part.

Unexpected prizes that need you to send money to claim—you may never receive the prize or it may not be what you expected.

Dating and romance scams try to lower your defences by appealing to your romantic or compassionate side. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.

Printer friendly
Quick links
Related topics

© Commonwealth of Australia 2015