Telecommunications fraud without risk

Millions of euros’ worth of damage is caused by illegal access to telecommunications networks and their unauthorized use. In the last few years, this has become especially popular practice, thanks to the ease with which the perpetrators make huge financial gains without any great risk attached. According to EFTA, the Greek Agency for the Prevention of Telecommunications Fraud, criminals’ methods include attacks on companies’ telephone exchanges, subscriber fraud (the purchase of services with false details), and hijacking a subscriber line and making calls on it. According to the head of the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) security division and EFTA Vice President Michalis Mavis, telecommunications fraud bears all the hallmarks of organized crime, since it is used for legalizing money made from the arms and drugs trades and prostitution. «The (fraudsters) are international criminals who move around European countries and pretend to be telecom providers. They are people to whom no suspicion is attached, the so-called white-collar criminals.» Greece is not absent from their clientele. In June 2002, criminals purporting to be the founders of a shipping company bought 300 telephone lines from OTE, using false details. Within two months, they had run up a bill of over 587,000 euros (200 million drachmas). Using the same method, Syrians on Crete recently sold rights to call abroad and within a month, had run up a bill of 1.5 million euros (500 million drachmas). Recently, telephone exchange break-ins, similar to Internet piracy, have also become more frequent. For example, a Greek courier company lost millions when its telephone exchange was broken into. «All that’s needed is for someone to learn the kind of exchange and its technical specifications. The rest is purely procedural,» said Mavis. According to EFTA statistics, both fixed-line and mobile phone companies have suffered losses of around 250 million euros over the last year. Cell phones have also been used for telecommunications fraud. One such case was that of a fraudster who, using false details, bought SIM cards from abroad and sold them to people in Greece. Within three days, he had charged over 58,000 euros to the card. There are also cases when cell phone lines are hijacked over which high-charge calls are made using the victim’s phone number. The latter will only find out what happened when the bill comes.