Protect Yourself and Your Family

Telephone and Internet fraud happens every day. It rings up billions in fraudulent phone charges and victimizes millions of people a year. It can happen in public, in your home, at your business or even in your car. It happens so quickly that criminals can steal a calling card number and put it to use just seconds later.

FraudTelecommunications companies are fighting back with state-of-the art technologies and skilled investigators to quickly detect phone fraud. Consolidated Communications is committed to preventing telecommunications fraud before it happens. A Consolidated Communications fraud prevention team continually identifies, evaluates and implements fraud prevention measures to protect you. For information or to report possible phone fraud contact our Fraud Prevention Center at 1.800.224.9126. You should also contact the Fraud Prevention Center if your Consolidated Calling Card has been lost or stolen, or if you've been a victim of a telephone fraud scam.

Consolidated's Partners Against Phone Fraud
To provide our customers with the best possible protection against phone fraud, Consolidated has banded together with several telecommunications industry leaders. Together, these groups combat phone fraud and scams by keeping telecommunications consumers informed.

But the battle against phone fraud cannot be won without your help. As a calling card, residential, business or cellular customer, you are the best preventive measure against this crime. Together, let's outsmart phone fraud! Here are several ways you can help prevent phone fraud.

Preventing Calling Card Phone Fraud
Preventing Phone Fraud at your Home or Business
Preventing PBX (Private Branch Exchange) Phone Fraud
Preventing Cellular Phone Fraud
Preventing Voice Mail Phone Fraud
Slamming
Cramming
ID Theft
Internet Modem Hijacking

Preventing Calling Card Phone Fraud
Make sure no one is watching you enter your calling card number or listening as you give your number to an operator. If a "shoulder surfer" sees or hears you enter your card number and PIN (Personal Identification Number) on a pay phone, you may become the next victim of fraud. Block the view of the keypad and speak directly into the phone. When possible, use a phone that reads your card automatically.

  • Do not use your calling card as an identification card
  • Use your driver's license or some other form of ID
  • Memorize your calling card and PIN number. Select a PIN that you can easily remember. Ask that your PIN not be printed on your card.
  • Beware of anyone who calls you requesting calling card verification. Telephone companies will NEVER call you to ask for your calling card number. Give out your card number ONLY when placing a call through an operator.
  • If you do not make international calls, request a calling card for domestic use only.
  • Report a lost or stolen card immediately. Notify your calling card provider the moment you suspect your calling card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised.

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Preventing Phone Fraud at your Home or Business
Don't accept collect calls from people you don't know. When you accept, you have agreed to pay the charges.

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Block third-number billing to your phone number
Third number billing allows you to bill calls you make from other phones to your phone number. But third-number billing is also a potential source of phone fraud. If you have a calling card, it's a good idea to block all third-number calls.

Law enforcement officials and telephone companies will never ask you to accept collect calls or third-number charges as part of an "investigation". If anyone asks for sensitive information as part of an "investigation", be wary. If you doubt the caller's identification, insist on a call-back number. Then hang up and call the Consolidated Communications Fraud Prevention Center at 1.800.224.9126 to verify the identity of the caller.

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Preventing PBX (Private Branch Exchange) Phone Fraud
A PBX or Private Branch Exchange is a private switch, either automatic or manually operated, serving extensions in a business and providing access to the public network. DISA (Direct Inward Systems Access) permits remote access to a PBX from a phone outside the business usually via a toll-free number or other special access number to give authorized persons the convenience of billing long distance calls to the company's PBX. DISA gives criminals the same opportunity, as well as the chance to set up an illegal call-sell operation at the company's expense.

In general, you should always be alert to signs of PBX abuse, such as:

  • Repeated calls of short duration
  • Changes in after-hours calling patterns
  • Sudden increases in 800/888 number usage
  • Unexplained increases in incoming or outgoing calls.

If practical, eliminate remote access to your PBX and replace it with calling cards for authorized personnel. If you eliminate remote access, make sure the system is disabled when not in use. If eliminating remote access is not an option, try implementing these suggestions to minimize the risk of toll fraud.

  • Limit the number of persons who use remote access.
  • Use an unpublished number for remote access instead of 800 numbers.
  • A delayed electronic call response can provide added security.
  • Program the PBX to wait at least five rings before answering a call.
  • A steady tone used as a remote access prompt leaves your system vulnerable to perpetrators' automatic dialing programs.
  • Use a voice recording or silent prompt instead of a tone.
  • Tailor access to the PBX to conform to the needs of your business.
  • Block access to international and long distance numbers your company does not call.
  • Consider using "time of day" routing features to restrict international calls to daytime hours only.
  • Always change all default passwords.
  • Whenever possible, limit remote PBX access to local calling during normal business hours.
  • Be sure to restrict access after hours and on weekends.
  • Delete all authorization codes that were programmed into the PBX for testing and servicing.
  • Assign codes on a need-to-know basis only.
  • Advise employees to treat codes as they would credit card numbers.
  • Never print codes on billing records.

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Preventing Cellular Phone Fraud
Remove the handset and antenna from the car when not in use. This will help avoid the unwanted attention of criminals with Electronic Serial Number (ESN cloning devices).

Protect your Electronic Serial Number. Never give your ESN number to anyone. And don't put your subscriber agreement in an unsafe place, such as the glove compartment.

Never let anyone use your phone unless you are present. If someone wants to use your phone, offer to dial the number for them. Fraud criminals can easily access the codes stored in your phone.

Have your phone serviced only at reputable firms. If you need service, take your phone only to an authorized distributor of your cellular service.

If your phone is stolen, call your local police and cellular carrier immediately. The sooner you call, the less likely your phone will be used fraudulently.

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Preventing Voice Mail Phone Fraud
Voice mail systems answer phones and allow the caller to record messages. The receiver may play and delete the messages or forward them to another person on the same system. Voice mail systems that provide out-dial or through-dial capability are another popular avenue for fraudulent calls. Trespassers also look for default codes on mailboxes, so they can change the codes and control the boxes.

Trespassers will also seek out passwords, authorization codes and access codes by snooping around the office, calling businesses and even rummaging through dumpsters. Comprised numbers are sold and traded in the "phone underworld" with the unsuspecting business owners picking up the tab.

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Slamming
As competition steps up for the long distance dollar, a practice known as slamming is on the increase. Slamming is used by some long distance companies to enlarge their customer base by switching the subscribers long distance carrier without the subscribers consent or knowledge.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has begun taking action against companies known to use slamming as it is an illegal practice. The current FCC order clearly outlines the new requirements for the content and format of Letters of Agency (LOA's) in an attempt to reduce or eliminate unauthorized PIC (Primary Interexchange Carrier) changes. All rules apply to both residential and business PIC change requests. In order to prevent your service from being slammed, simply contact your local telephone company business office and ask for a PIC freeze. A PIC freeze indicates that no carrier selection changes can be made unless you notify them by phone or in writing. Only when a customer has authorized a change in carriers is a change allowed to be made to the account.

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Cramming
Millions of telephone users continue to be victims of telecommunications fraud. The latest twist has been labeled "cramming" and is hitting all across America, but especially in the Midwest. Cramming is when a consumer's monthly bill has charges for services or products the consumer did not order or authorize. Charges may be as low as a few dollars a month or as high as $50 a month. These charges often appear on a consumers bill without warning.

Consumers are encouraged to contact their telephone company if they discover charges they didn't authorize. Many fall victim to cramming by signing sweepstakes forms or after calls to certain toll-free numbers. In addition, customers often fail to closely examine their phone bill and therefore pay the charges unknowingly. Charges not challenged are likely to continue. Consumers should examine their phone bills closely and contact their phone company to have any unauthorized charges adjusted immediately. If a customer is unsure of the charges appearing on their bill, phone company representatives can explain what charges are mandated and what charges have been applied due to billing agreements.

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ID Theft
During a normal day, you may write 3-4 checks, deposit mail, use your cellular phone and apply for a credit card without ever giving these transactions a second thought. However, an identity thief makes a living off of your business.

One of the hottest crimes is identity theft. Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique only to you, your personal information - especially your social security number, bank account numbers and credit card numbers can be used by an identity thief to personally profit at your expense. Not only will a victim incur out-of-pocket financial losses, but substantial additional financial costs trying to restore their reputation in the community and their financial accounts.

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What is identity theft and how does it occur?
Identity theft is when a person knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit an unlawful act. Identity theft can occur when your wallet or purse is stolen. These items usually contain your driver's license, credit cards and bankcards. Thieves will go through your trash looking for personal data, such as pre-approved credit card applications, old bank statements, copies of your checks, or other records that would bear your name, address and even your telephone number. If you receive applications for "pre-approved" credit cards in the mail, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards for their use without your knowledge. (Some credit card companies, when sending credit cards have adopted security measures that allow a card recipient to activate the card only from his or her home telephone number but this is not yet a universal practice.) Also, if your mail is delivered to a place where others have ready access to it, criminals may simply intercept and redirect your mail to another location. Identity Theft can also occur by the thief obtaining personal information that you share on the Internet. This can occur when you purchase items over a website. Another way a thief can obtain personal information is through an "inside" source. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for employment you filled out. A way to minimize this is to ask if there is an alternative source of identification instead of using your social security number.

Never reveal any personally identifying information. If it is necessary, know what the information will be used for. Be stingy! Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive in time. If your bills are extremely late, chances are a thief has rerouted your mail. Guard your mail. Deposit all outgoing mail at the post office or a collection box. Shred all credit card applications or any other documents that have any personal information of yours before throwing it out. Put passwords on all of your financial accounts. DO NOT share these passwords with anyone except whom ever is on the account with you, if anyone. DO NOT carry your social security card in your purse or wallet. Having this item fall into the wrong hands can be disastrous for your credit history!

Check your credit report annually with one of the 3 major credit bureaus. The cost is $8.50 for a copy of your credit report. Do this on a yearly basis to make sure everything reported is correct. Report all stolen or lost bankcards or credit cards IMMEDIATELY to your financial institutions. Minimize the number of cards and identification information your carry. Carry only what you need. Do not put your social security number on your checks.

As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways for identity thieves to obtain information is by getting pre-approved credit cards applications out of your trash. How can you stop this? Easy, to opt out of receiving prescreened credit card offers, call:


1-888.5.OPTOUT (1.888.578.8688).

When you receive calls from credit card companies, ask them to allow you to "opt out" of having your number shared with others companies for any promotional purposes. More organizations are doing this, so do not ever be afraid to ask.

Now you know how thieves obtain personal information, how do you choose to share your information? When YOU initiate any calls for products to buy over the phone, generally your transaction will be okay, because you know to whom you are calling. The calls that you must be cautious of are when you RECEIVE a phone call. You cannot be certain that the person on the other line is who they claim to be.

So you discover that you have been a victim of identity theft, what should you do? Immediately call the three major credit bureaus - Equifax, Trans Union and Experian, and have a fraud alert placed on your file. In addition to the fraud alert, you should have the bureaus' place a victim's statement in your file asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. After calling the bureaus, you need to notify the Federal Trade Commission. They will be able to place a nation wide alert on your accounts.

You will need to notify all of your financial institutions where your accounts have been tampered with. You may need to call and cancel these accounts, place stop payments on all outstanding checks and change your ATM card and PIN number. You will also need to call all of your credit card companies and notify them. IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO FOLLOW ALL OF YOUR PHONE CALLS WITH A LETTER! The letter should state what you believe to be inaccurate. You should include copies of documents that support your position. This letter should clearly identify each item in your report that you dispute, give the facts and explain, in detail, why you dispute the information and request deletion or correction. You will want to enclose a copy of your police report that you filed, too.

After speaking with your financial institutions, you should call Telecheck services. This is a nationwide check alert company that can place alerts to ALL merchants not to accept any checks until the fraud is resolved. If your ATM card is lost, stolen or otherwise compromised cancel the card as soon as you can.

  1. Equifax: 1.800.525.6285
  2. Experian: 1.888.397.3742
  3. Trans Union: 1.800.680.7289
  4. Federal Trade Commission: 1.877.438.4338
  5. Social Security Administration: 1.800.269.0271
  6. Telecheck: 1.800.710.9898
  7. Local Police: Yellow Pages
  8. Federal Bureau of Investigations: White Pages
  9. All creditors where accounts have been tampered with
  10. Local Utility Companies: White Pages
  11. Local Post Office (If mail is believed missing)
  12. Local Driver's License Bureau: White Pages

The next step is to call your local post office, phone company and power company. You should have all of your public utility accounts cancelled and open new accounts and have security codes placed on them for protection from future Identity Fraud. If you are having trouble getting charges removed from your utilities, contact your state Public Utility Commission.

Finally, you may need to hire an attorney to check into any criminal records. In rare instances, a person may have used your name to commit a crime.

When trying to restore your credit, should you apply for a new social security card too? It would be better if you just kept your old one. Getting a new SSN does not ensure a new credit record. In fact, credit bureaus may combine credit records from your old SSN with your new SSN. Since this may happen you may have difficulty getting credit. Also, there is no guarantee that an identity thief would not misuse a new social security number.

Identity Theft is an alarming crime and one that is not to be taken lightly. Reduce the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft and remember the word SCAM. If you feel that you have become a victim of identity fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission immediately at 1.877.ID.THEFT (877-438-4338).

Fraud Alert - Recent Cases of Phone Fraud in Central Illinois
Consolidated plans to keep customers informed of phone fraud by posting scams as they are reported. Stay tuned to this page to find out when new fraud scams ocurr in the Consolidated service area.

U.S. Businesses Pay the Price for International Prank Calls

Internet Scam hits Area Customers Again!

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U.S. Businesses Pay the Price for International Prank Calls
MATTOON - U.S. businesses are footing the bill for costly prank telephone calls made to annoy residents of the Philippines. The latest international telecom scheme uses business voice mail systems to make hundreds of irritating prank calls to Philippine residents. In one case, a business incurred a monthly bill of $30,000 in international charges, and some 450 international calls were placed from the business during just one day.

Consolidated Communications Fraud Prevention Manager Cheryl Smith Rardin said the scam involves fraudsters dialing U.S. businesses via toll-free lines and then enabling the company's voice mail system. Messages left by the fraudsters in the system create a page, and forward calls to a location selected by the caller, in this case, residents of the Philippines. Smith Rardin warned that U.S. customers are often not aware of the costly fraud until the bill arrives.

Smith Rardin said knowing your voice mail system is the best defense against this scam. "If you don't need the paging feature, make sure it is turned off," she warned. "Review the features available on your system, and turn off all features not used."

She also suggested that businesses that typically don't make international calls have a block placed on their line to protect against these and other international calling schemes. "Customers are responsible for the set up and use of their equipment and are responsible for all charges incurred on their phone systems," she said.

"Today's fraudsters have vast technical skills and often operate from non-domestic locations, such as the case with the Philippines fraud. The callers are actually located in the Philippines and are calling into the United States on toll-free lines," she explained.

Smith Rardin also warned that many business customers continue to see "social engineering" fraud. The scam involves callers gaining access to a company's phone system by posing as "telephone repair" and asking receptionists to dial a series of numbers to "test the system." The sequence of numbers dialed gives fraudsters access to the company's telephone system.

"These calls should never be completed," she said. "To prevent social engineering fraud, make sure all employees are trained and retrained on company policy regarding phone requests. Inbound calls should not be transferred to an outside line. Don't dial any codes that give callers an outside line, such as '9' or '8' before a number, and never complete calls for individuals unknown to you."

More information about telecommunications fraud can be found on the Consolidated Communications Web site at www.consolidated.com. If you have questions regarding telecommunications fraud, contact the Consolidated Fraud Prevention Center at 1.800.224.9126.

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Internet Scam hits Area Customers Again!
Several months ago, area internet users were plagued by Web sites enticing them to download software that, in the end, cost the customers hundreds of dollars in long distance charges. The Internet scam is back again and claiming several, unsuspecting, victims. The rebirth of this scam is becoming just as expensive as the other scam. There are international charges of $7.34/minute that are on Consolidated customer's phone bills.

Web surfers are being enticed to download software such as, adult pictures, faster Internet access, games, and contests, just to name some examples. Once this software is downloaded onto the customer's computer, it will turn down the volume on the modem to a point where the customer cannot hear it. Then the modem is turned back on, but it is now placing an international call, at the customers expense.

Customers will not realize anything has happened, until they receive their telephone bill. These charges are usually hundreds of dollars per call. The customer must also realize, that they are ultimately responsible for those charges.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim is to limit what you download on your computer. If you feel you have to download software from the Internet, make sure it is from a reputable website.

If any resident or business feels that they have been a victim of this scam, please call the Consolidated Fraud Prevention Center at 1-800-224-9126.

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Internet Modem Hijacking
Internet users across the county, including Consolidated Communications customers, are being surprised in international phone charges on their telephone bills. Internet modem hijacking occurs when software is downloaded to a PC from an internet site - often without the knowledge of the PC owner. Modem hijacking is one of the most common forms of internet fraud and every day the list of victims grows by leaps and bounds. The software downloaded is known as 'dialer software' and is designed to disconnect your current internet connection and dial out to a new number that is preprogrammed. Often, the terminating numbers are cost-intensive long distance, international or 900 numbers at rates between $.79 and $7.00 per minute.

What are some of the indications that a dialer is trying to establish a connection?

  • A dialer box pops up and indicates it is dialing when it has not been directed to dial
  • The computer makes an audible noise indicating it is trying to establish a connection
  • The current site being browsed does not respond to prompts, it appears to be frozen

What can be done about dialer software?

  1. It may be necessary to contact a professional to have the software removed.
  2. Get virus protection software and keep it current. Keep computer system patches up to date.
  3. Use a good firewall. This can help prevent malicious code from getting into the PC.
  4. Use pop-up blockers and anti-spyware.
  5. If possible, adjust computer security options so the machine will not use active scripting or Java scripting; or download Java applets or Active X controls.
  6. Unplug the phone cord from the modem when not in use. When on line, check periodically to ensure the dial up number is the one you selected.
  7. If you have DSL, don't forget that if you use a phone line for a fax, you're still at risk. Only plug in the phone line when making or receiving a fax and disconnect immediately afterward.
  8. Do not click on URL's offered in e-mails, instant messages or pop-ups. Only use the URL after it has been verified.
  9. Consider blocking access to international destinations and 1010 dial around codes. Some dialer software will "dial around" to other carriers if international access is not available from your PIC'd carrier.
  10. Don't use automatic bill-pay for your telephone bills. Review each bill to ensure there are no calls you don't recognize.

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