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Gotcha!: What to do if a tele-crook calls [AT&T Government Issue]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
AT&T Government Issue
Spring 1997

TELE-CROOKS BEWARE. AT&T’S GOVERNMENT Network Security Center is fighting against telecommunications schemes and scams by educating government employees about ways to handle crooked callers.

Consider this incident: A man called a government agency in Ohio and identified himself as a student conducting a survey about the agency’s PBX. However, after asking a few general questions, the caller wanted to know specific details, including identification codes and passwords.

A red flag went up for the technician taking the call, who asked for a number to phone back the caller. The telecrook immediately hung up.

“The technician did exactly the right thing,” said Betty Thomas, associate manager at AT&T’s Government Network Security Center. “If a caller asks too many specific questions, you could be talking to a tele-crook.”

Tele-crooks are very good at what they do. Telecommunications and Network Security Review magazine estimated the government and U.S. corporations lost more than $3.7 billion in 1996 due to telecommunications fraud.

The worst part is, tele-crooks often use employees as unwitting accomplices. “But employees don’t have to be victims-they just have to be savvy,” Thomas said. “Employees may think they are being nice by helping someone who calls and asks for information. But they should never brag about the technology the agency has, and they should never, ever give out specific password information.”

Beware of another popular scam: a caller claiming to be an executive at your agency. “If a tele-crook gets hold of a phone directory which lists names and positions, he will call in-probably to a junior employee-and claim to be someone very senior at the agency,” said Thomas. “The thief will joke and be very friendly. After a while, he will ask to be transferred to the operator.”

This is when the real trouble starts, Thomas said, because the call will appear to the operator to have been transferred internally. The tele-crook will lie and say he is having trouble getting an outside line, so the operator puts him through. When this happens, the crook has carte blanche to charge thousands of dollars in calls on the agency’s tab.

“The right thing to do,” said Thomas, “is get an extension number and say you will call right back before transferring the caller to the operator. Even though you want to help your fellow employees—especially your superiors-these days you must be cautious. “

If you have any questions about your agency’s security, call the AT&T Government Network Security Center at 1800 387-3672.


Following are the results of a 1996 poll of what136 computer hackers think about the future of hacking, according to the M2 publication Telecomworldwire.

• 75 percent of hackers surveyed believe sophisticated technology does not act as a deterrent to their profession;
• 62 percent said even if more hackers are prosecuted, they won’t stop trying to gain access to systems;
• 60 percent think opportunities to access systems are increasing;
• 55 percent believe the Internet provides more opportunity to access private systems;
• 54 percent think tighter security will only make accessing closed systems more enjoyable;
• 48 percent believe software programmers are lazy;
• 25 percent of the hackers blame system administrators for leaving holes, which allow them to gain entry.


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.