Wireline TeleCom tops FCC Complaint List

Catching up on my reading of unscrupulous behavior, I came across some interesting information from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Their Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division is in charge of reviewing, mediating, responding and resolving the public inquiries, concerns, and complaints filed towards the FCC.   The results are published in quarterly reports and, believe it or not, are occasionally interesting.   One can track the historical spikes of complaints following incidents such as certain broadcasted radio comments by Howard Stern or the televised Jackson-Timberlake debacle of Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Phone telecommunications continues to be the primary form of real-time direct information sharing.  While I'd like to claim it's the number one means of verbal communication, I don't think studies have been performed comparing it to actual face time.  Nevertheless, with any prevailing technology comes the prevalence of fraud.  The same hundred year old cons have evolved with society and technology.  While it may be rare to see someone pulling off a "pigeon drop" today, it's just as rare to have a day go by without receiving a phone call or email, as a modern equivalent. 

I was surprised by the most recent published statistics (actually only covering up to Q2 2007) which showed a high number of complaints regarding Wireline Telecommunications.  In fact, when compared with the categories for Cable & Satellite Services, Radio & Television Broadcasting, and Wireless Telecommunications, it accounted for 60% of all complaints during this period.  I felt that this statistic was worthy of an inquiry into the fraudulent activity generating these land line complaints. 

Area Code Phone Scams

This long distance phone scam causes consumers to inadvertently incur high charges on their phone bills. Consumers usually receive a message requesting them to call a phone number with an 809, 284 or 876 area code concerning an important matter.  These will often included placing a call in order to collect a prize, find out information about a sick relative, or receive information about an important legal matter. The caller assumes the number is a typical three-digit U.S. area code; however, the caller is actually connected to a phone number outside the United States, and charged international call rates. Unfortunately, consumers don't find out that they have been charged the higher call rates until they receive their bill.

900 Number Switching Scams

We all feel safe calling "toll free" 1-800 or 888 numbers, while knowing stay away from 1-900 numbers.  However, there exists an illegal scam that merges the two.  An advertisement will claim an incredible offer, either a service, job, or anything to get someone interested enough to call a toll free number to find out more.  After placing the 1-800 call, an automated greeting asks that they press #9 to verify their number.  By pressing #9 (in some reported cases, #90), that call has just been transferred to a 900 number and through a long series of questions, the caller is kept on the line for as long as possible.  This can be avoided by instituting a 900 number block through your service provider

Credit Card Scams

A phone call is received from someone or something (computerized voice) claiming to be a credit card representative. They will ask for sensitive account information, under the guise that it is merely part of a routine confirmation to keep the card active. This type of calling scheme is aimed at trustworthy people who are likely to give his/her sensitive information with no questions, unfortunately the elderly.

*72 Phone Scam

When you dial *72 followed by a telephone number, it activates the call forwarding feature, causing all your incoming calls to be forwarded to another number. If scammed successfully, whether calls have been forwarded to a landline, a cell phone or a pay phone, an accomplice is able to accept all collect and third-party calls, while telling your own legitimate callers that they've reached the wrong number.  You get billed for all calls made because your number is the one listed as the number from which they originated.  Some of these could be international calls, pushing the costs into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you know that this has been done to your number, you can shut off the transfer of your telephone calls by pushing *73.

Do Not Call

Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the FCC, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), established the national Do-Not-Call Registry. The registry is nationwide in scope, applies to all telemarketers, and covers both interstate and intrastate telemarketing calls. Commercial telemarketers are not allowed to call you if your number is on the registry, subject to certain exceptions (I'm looking into that).  Unfortunately, this doesn't end all calls from telemarketers.  Always in search of loopholes, successful or not, some continue to call.  If you haven't done so, you can visit the main registration site to keep the telemarketers away, or perhaps you just enjoy having someone to talk to.  However, a different approach to fighting telemarketers can be found in some the links on the Electronic Privacy Information Center's site on the TCPA.

Slamming & Cramming

"Slamming" is the illegal practice of changing a person's communications provider without permission, and it can affect customer's local or long distance service.  "Cramming" occurs when unauthorized charges appear on your bill.  These thefts of services are serious violations and should always be reported. 

To file a report or complaint about any of the above mentioned scams, contact your state public utilities commission or the FCC at (888) 225-5322 (CALL FCC) or visit the FCC Web site.

These issues are hardly any type of new security concern for most people, although, they continue to exist in unnecessarily high numbers.  While constantly monitoring for the latest high tech threats, perhaps we should take a moment to provide the occasional refresher on some basic security fundamentals for our end users.

This has been a public service announcement from: greyhat@computer.org


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