Scam Phone Message In Chinese Hits US Weather Service Intercom System

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The message in Mandarin Chinese was part of an ongoing robocall campaign hitting phones around the country

A National Weather Service in the US state of Maryland has been hit by a robocall campaign that resulted in a scam message in Mandarin Chinese being broadcast over the building’s intercom system.

The message, in a recorded woman’s voice, played itself over the building’s loudspeakers on Wednesday morning.

It is part of an ongoing robocall scam campaign aimed at Chinese speakers, which also reached telephones at the same location, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Centre for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Maryland.

An email message from a branch IT manager said the phone system involved was not linked to any of the buiding’s government IT systems, according to the Washington Post.

Automated message

The email said it wasn’t clear how the robocall system accessed the building’s intercom.

“We are aware of the Chinese message that is propagating through the phone system and was (broadcast) over the building (public address system),” the email said. “Please do not be alarmed.”

An unnamed Weather Service employee told the Post that the message rang on telephones about 15 minutes before it hit the intercom, with both lasting about 45 seconds.

The message was all the more unexpected in that the intercom system is rarely used outside of fire drills, according to staff.

The scam messages typically inform the listener that they have a parcel to collect at the Chinese consulate, as was the case with this message.

Other variants say that the listener needs to provide information to the Chinese consulate. In both cases the message goes on to ask for bank or credit card information, or for a bank transfer to be made, according to a consumer warning from the US’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this year.

Scam warning

The FTC advised those affected to hang up and then report the call.

The (NOAA) said the incident resulted from “a series of robocalls” which reached both telephones and the public address system of the Weather Service centre.

“This robocall, with a female Mandarin recording, has been warned against for some time and is a known issue in the United States,” the NOAA said. “At no point were NOAA’s operations, data, or IT systems compromised by this robocall.”

The organisation added that its IT team worked with the building’s telecoms provider to prevent any future automated scam calls from reaching the public address system.

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