Don't let your phone be hijacked
You get a call from someone claiming to be a phone
company technician who needs to check the lines and wants you to
assist by dialing a series of numbers. Or maybe the caller says
you've won a prize. To claim it, you must dial some specific numbers.
Warning: It's a scam. Actually, you're dialing the
call forwarding code to your phone and forwarding your number to
another number. Scammers can then use your line to make calls while
you pick up the bill.
Call-forwarding scams aren't common, but they
happen often enough that major telecom companies such as AT&T
have posted warnings on their Web sites.
If consumers "receive a call from someone they
don't know and weren't expecting to hear from who asks them to do
something, their guard should go up immediately," says Seth
Bloom, spokesman for SBC Communications. "A legitimate company
has no reason to call and ask you to hit a series of buttons or
ask for your personal information."
Bob Nersesian, spokesman for AT&T, agrees. "Phone
companies do not have technicians call and ask you to punch combinations
of numbers," he says.
Call forwarding codes often vary depending on your
phone company, so it pays to know your code. That way, you can recognize
a scam for what it is.
If the person asking you to dial numbers is a stranger
calling you collect, you really want to be suspicious. "Sometimes
it's an inmate calling from a facility," says Bloom.
For the criminals, such ploys as the call-forwarding
scam are a numbers game. Con artists "make a ton of phone calls,
hoping to catch one consumer off guard," says Bloom.
But one warning that's making the rounds on the Internet
is mostly an urban legend. The story: If you dial "90#"
or "#90," you could give scammers control of your phone
lines. And you could -- if you work in an office where you have
to dial "9" to get an outside line.
"There are very few old business systems where
people could take over your phone that way," says Lisa Hone,
staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission.
A couple of years ago, one hot phone-hijacking
scam involved changing outgoing messages to facilitate collect calls.
Hijackers discovered that guessing the numeric pass code on certain
voice-mail systems was fairly easy. They mostly targeted small businesses,
and changed the outgoing messages to include a series of "yes"
responses. Then on weekends or after hours, they would make international
collect calls, which they charged to the businesses. When the operators
called the businesses to OK the charges, they heard "yes, yes."
When Maureen Claridge, whose travel agency line was
hit to the tune of $8,000, was alerted to the problem, she called
to hear it for herself. "The voice was so realistic I said
'get off my phone,'" she recalls. "It certainly didn't
sound like a taped message at all."
And while her local carrier quickly removed more than
$400 worth of calls from her bill, she had to fight for more than
a year with her long-distance carrier.
Her advice to consumers who sign up for a voice-mail
system: Devise a numeric password that's lengthy, random and difficult
As added protection, some long-distance companies
now require consumers to repeat a randomly selected series of numbers
to verify their operators are obtaining collect-call permission
from a live person.
Cell phones aren't immune to hijacking scams,
either. Through a process known as cloning, cell phone signals can
be captured by others. But the charges and the bill still go to
the original customer.
With the advent of digital phones, cloning,
while technically possible, "is significantly less of a problem,"
says Frances Feld, executive director for the Communications Fraud
Control Association. "It is no longer something we stress."