Is my friend pretending to be overseas?
November 11, 2020 4:34 PM   Subscribe

It could just be a fluke, but my friend tells me she's calling from Europe, but when I call her cell phone and she calls mine, there are no extra charges or changes in my service.

On my phone the call comes up as a local call and she claims she doesn't pay extra either. We both have cell phones with T-mobile.

She owes me some money and I wonder if maybe she's just avoiding payment.... or maybe I'm just too suspicious. Someone told me she might be using a VOIP program or VPN, but I've been trying to download various VOIP and VPN apps for my phone and none of them are allowing me to call from my phone while displaying MY cell phone number (not a VOIP number). I don't have an international plan on my phone and when I try to call someone that I know lives in London, it won't let me through, but when I call my friend who claims to have been in Europe for a month, there's no problem getting through. She says she has something on her cell phone that makes the service think she's in the USA, but when I ask her what it is, she isn't able to really explain it and says it's something she downloaded a while ago and she doesn't really know how it works. Can it be a VPN?
posted by fantasticness to Technology (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
When I use my phone with an international plan from Europe, it shows up exactly the same for folks in the US. I'm not using a European SIM - just Verizon's international plan. It's also something I set up a while ago and honestly I'm not sure exactly how it worked, probably a setting on the account settings page on verizon's site?

I'm not saying your friend might not be squirrely/suspicious for other reasons. But it is really not hard to make phone calls from most countries with a US cell phone and have it show up exactly like it would calling from next door.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:43 PM on November 11, 2020 [11 favorites]

Wifi calling can work that way, which tmobile supports and a with a compatible phone. Setup instructions here: tmobile wifi calling

Timezones affect when your friend is active, social media, other sleuthy things can tell you if your friend is being truthful, but won't help you get paid back.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:45 PM on November 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

Wifi calling with T-mobile in Europe works with no extra charges and the calls look like they're coming from one's normal number - which they are - so yeah she could totally be doing that. Can't speak to the other issues.
posted by leslies at 4:45 PM on November 11, 2020 [10 favorites]

I kept my US number when I moved to the UK, and I paid something like $5 a month for free International calling. I also used wifi to do most of my calling. So everyone I called back home was getting a phone call from my US number. I also had a UK number but I never called home with it. Edited to add, maybe she's just paying for that service but she doesn't want to tell you because she owes you money! And sorry. Even ONE more edit. I have T-Mobile.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:49 PM on November 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

T-mobile is to thank for the rates. I went to Europe last summer (2019) and I had the same thing. It is one of the reasons I switched to t-mobile.
posted by AugustWest at 4:49 PM on November 11, 2020

If you use a US phone without changing the SIM it works the same as it does here in the US. There are several carriers that no longer charge extra for international roaming, even.

You not being able to place international calls is irrelevant since you are calling a US number, just like it would be if the person you were calling were in rural Arizona roaming on some small US carrier. The forwarding is done by their provider and the billing arrangement is between them and your friend. Wifi calling (or not) doesn't change anything about this.

There are VoIP providers that will allow you to make calls that appear to come from any number you like, by the way. The better/more ethical ones make you verify ownership of the number before they will let you use it, but many will happily pass any number you like, valid or not.
posted by wierdo at 6:03 PM on November 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

You're looking at this the wrong way. With the variety of packages available there's no way to tell where the phone is from the charges. Not to mention no sane network would charge a different amount for calling a local-to-you number when that phone is abroad for obvious reasons.

If your friend is abroad you'll hear a the ringtone of the country they are in when waiting for them to pick up.
posted by turkeyphant at 6:06 PM on November 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

other sleuthy things

Another thing you can try is to find an image the person has taken with their phone and messaged/emailed to you. Social media posts might work, too.

Run it through an EXIF decoder like Pic2Map and see if it can extract GPS data out of the image.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:22 AM on November 12, 2020

Phone issues aside, I’d be suspicious how your friend got into Europe. Aren’t their borders closed against us covidy Americans? Correct me if I’m making assumptions.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:21 AM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

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