Real phone number featured in ‘squid game’ leads to prank call apocalypse


SEOUL — In one of the opening scenes of Netflix Inc.’s megahit “Squid Game”, a charming stranger hands the debt-strapped protagonist a business card. The card contains an eight-digit phone number. Those who call are unknowingly invited to a life and death contest where the winner collects a huge financial prize.

“Who are you?” asks Seong Gi-hun, the main character of the series.

It’s a question – and an offer – that has won over “Squid Game” fans around the world. In real life, they dialed in droves, from South Korea to South America, looking for a connection to a dystopian drama that unexpectedly became Netflix’s # 1 show in more than 90 countries.

But the phone number, and even poorly-dialed approximations, belong to real South Koreans, adding unintentional dread, or at least extreme aggravation, to an already packed spectacle.

Hanna Kim, a 26-year-old office worker in Seoul, didn’t think her “Squid Game” nightmare would extend beyond the thrill of the show. She enjoyed the drama, which premiered on September 17, so much that she recommended it to all of her friends. She didn’t even notice that the phone number on the show differed from hers by only two digits.

After local media began reporting last month that the “Squid Game” number was linked to a live number, Ms. Kim saw an increase in text messages and calls from strangers, even one from Colombia. Most people hang up immediately. Others ask him: “Is this a ‘squid game’? “

Guards in “Squid Game,” which became an unexpected mega-hit for Netflix.



She said she asked Netflix and South Korean production company Siren Pictures how they were going to handle prank calls, and they told her they wouldn’t provide financial compensation to people like her. Both companies declined to comment on individual cases.

“It makes me angry because I had so much fun watching ‘Squid Game’,” Ms. Kim said.

A Netflix spokesperson said the company is working with Siren Pictures to edit scenes with the phone number. As of Wednesday, the phone number still appears on the show and in the opening seconds of the official “Squid Game” trailer which has racked up more than 20 million views on YouTube.

South Korea is restricting how movies can use phone numbers but not TV shows, according to the Korean Film Council, a government-affiliated body that issues pre-approved fictitious numbers. In practice, local television productions generally scramble the numbers or offer false ones, he added.

“Squid Game” is fast becoming Netflix’s most watched show and is apparently on everyone’s watch list. The South Korean drama highlights the disparities between classes, as told in a bloody and mysterious survival competition where hundreds of indebted adults play traditional children’s games for a payout of around $ 40 million.

A South Korean, in his mid-forties and owner of a small business, has borne the brunt of the “Squid Game” craze. His cell phone number exactly matches the show’s fictitious one. He has received 4,000 calls a day – on average one every 20 seconds or so – and now needs medication to fall asleep at night, the man told local media in brief interviews days after the launch of ” Squid Game ”.

Competitors wear green in the South Korean show. Real-life Koreans with the phone number or nearby number featured on the show were inundated with calls.



Before he stopped answering his phone, the man said callers usually told him they wanted to participate in the “Squid Game”. He cannot change his number easily because it is linked to his activity. His wife, whose number only changes with a different last digit, was also bombed.

“I didn’t even watch ‘Squid Game’,” the man told a local broadcaster. “It’s so stressful, but there is nothing I can do.

The man did not respond to several text messages and phone calls as the line was repeatedly busy.

The South Korean press attention to the small business owner being inundated with calls has sparked a full-fledged trend in further mimicking the behavior of hoax calls, said Keumjoo Kwak, professor of psychology at Seoul National University.

“When a lot of people do it,” Ms. Kwak said, “the guilt for causing damage disperses.”

A South Korean politician, Huh Kyung-young, even tried to capitalize on the frenzy. He offered to buy the phone number from the owner of the small business for about $ 84,000. He got no response. Seeking to distract from the man, Huh, who is running for the South Korean presidential election next year, posted his own cell phone number online.

“I get a phone call every second,” Mr. Huh said.

The wave of calls inspired by the “Squid Game” contradicts modern behavior in many ways. Fewer people see a reason to call someone up for a chat, preferring text messages, FaceTime-style video calls or messaging apps, said Michael J. Wolf, CEO of Activate Inc., a consulting firm. technology and strategy. “Even I tell people to text me first, then I know it’s you,” Mr. Wolf said. “SMS replaces calls.”

In the United States, Hollywood can choose from a list of 100 different variations of numbers beginning with “555”. Increasingly, filmmakers believe the numbers can look fake, so the use of fake numbers has declined, said JD Connor, professor of film arts at the University of Southern California. “You want the public to believe,” Mr. Connor said.

Misadventures have occurred. The 2003 film “Bruce Almighty” depicts a scene where God contacts the main character on a pager, with the number appearing without an area code.

Actor Lee Jung-jae plays Seong Gi-hun, number 456.



Several individuals, and at least two churches, have been found to have the number in real life. This led to two weeks of constant appeals to a church in North Carolina then led by Bruce MacInnes. He remembers a caller asking him, “Are you God? Mr. MacInnes replied no, but offered to speak of faith nonetheless. The caller hung up.

For Squid Game targets, Mr. MacInnes gives some advice: “Know that this will end someday.” “

Universal Pictures, which released “Bruce Almighty,” upgraded to a “555” number for the DVD version and then purchased a separate number to use in future films.

An apology is all a recent South Korean college graduate wants from Netflix or Siren Pictures. The 22-year-old, who only wants to be identified by her last name, Jeong, has a phone number that varies two digits from that of “Squid Game.” She faced over 100 calls a day and took to Twitter to complain about the harassment.

But since she is looking for a job, Ms. Jeong said that she answers all calls.

“What if it was a job offer?” ” she said.

Write to Dasl Yoon at [email protected] and Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]

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