NEWS

Phone fraud costs millions of euros

One day you might find not just one mobile phone bill in your letter box, but two – and then a few days later another. All of them are for colossal amounts, and you don’t even own a mobile telephone. Welcome to the community of telephone fraud victims, a racket that costs land-line and mobile phone companies about 235 million euros every year. Overcharging of telephone bills used to be blamed on telephone company technicians. However, the truth is that today, the means of defrauding consumers and phone companies are far more complicated and hard to detect, and the results far more damaging. In fact, when a scam has been discovered, usually after the event, it is very difficult to prove and the victim usually has to pay. Two years ago, in recognition of the problem, the State set up the Greek Agency for the Prevention of Telecommunication Fraud (EFTA), comprising representatives of land-line and mobile telephone companies. The scams «The most common method is the subscriber scam, when someone sets up a land-line or mobile number using a false identity, charges up huge amounts and then abandons it,» EFTA’s outgoing president, Michalis Mavis, told Kathimerini. «A 22-year-old student from the Peloponnese suddenly found herself the owner of six mobile telephones – two each with all three companies – and billed for 70,000-75,000 euros. The girl ended up in court, where she was eventually acquitted as it was shown that the proof of identity presented to the companies had been forged. The girl had taken out a loan to buy goods from an electrical store, where it appears someone had obtained a photocopy of her identity card. This person had then found out her address, taken an electricity bill from her letter box and made out a false taxation statement (even though the girl herself did not even have a tax number). Using these documents, the person took out six phone links in her name and overcharged them. The student did not have to pay the bills in the end, but naturally went through a terrible ordeal,» he said. Another scam is the misuse of the phone line diversion. There was the case of a childminder who diverted her employer’s calls to Ukraine. She would then return to her own home, call her employer’s number and was able to talk to her family in Ukraine. She herself paid only for the cost of the local call, while her employer was billed for the international charges. She would then cancel the diversion and her employer was none the wiser, at least until she received the bill. There have been a number of similar cases where immigrants have diverted calls at kiosks or bars to land lines in places as far away as Pakistan. Another scam that has come to light is the number of calls to sex lines via the Internet. Someone visits a pornographic site on the Web and downloads a free program providing access to pornographic material. However, there is a hidden cost. The program instructs the modem to call an international line. The caller is billed for 2 euros per minute instead of 10 cents per minute (the usual Internet rate). Sometimes the program is so «smart» that it silences the modem to make the redialling imperceptible, or else it rings when the computer is switched off. «These calls are made to small countries in the Pacific Ocean such as Papua New Guinea or Vanuatu, who have rented their telephone codes to major companies. It is as if Greece had rented all the telephone numbers in Thessaloniki (0310),» explained Mavis. Warning «The Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) analyzes these calls as a precautionary measure and when it finds large bills, it warns the victims,» he added. Mavis also warned that the OTE board in each apartment building should be well protected, or else someone can adjust the cables and listen in to your calls or else make their own calls. But OTE exchanges in the street are perfectly safe. «In the past (particularly during the dictatorship), there was a problem with phone-tapping, but now these lines are quite safe due to ISDN. Many people also think it is risky to have a cordless phone, but this is not true for the new technology, the DECT models. Only people with the old models are at risk as it is easy for someone to get in on the same wavelength and listen in or make calls.»