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'High-tech telephone fraud' that involved guessing 'simple passwords'

It seems pretty low-tech nowadays, but a 1994 Prime Time News report described it as "high-tech telephone fraud."

Theft problem targeted poorly protected office phone systems in 1994

'High-tech telephone fraud' targeting office phones

Digital Archives

27 years ago
2:16
In 1994, the CBC's Paul Hunter reports on a type of fraud that involves hacking into office phones. 2:16

It seems pretty low-tech nowadays, but a 1994 Prime Time News report described it as "high-tech telephone fraud."

It involved unauthorized parties dialling into office phones, accessing the voice mail system by guessing the password and then taking advantage of the access they gained to make long-distance calls.

"Trouble is, a lot of people pick simple passwords, like '1111', and that makes it simple for criminals to break into them," reporter Paul Hunter explained to viewers on July 20, 1994.

"And when they do, they can often reprogram voice mailboxes into giving them new dial tones for phone calls anywhere in the world."

Some kids, but mostly 'professional thieves'

Ian Angus, a telecommunications consultant, said that "professional thieves" were responsible for the majority of long-distance theft occurrences in Canada. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

Ian Angus, a telecommunications consultant, said the ease of breaking into the poorly protected phones meant the hacking wasn't hard to do — to the point where some young people were having some fun by engaging in hacking.

But Angus said teenage hackers generally weren't who businesses needed to worry about.

"Almost all of the rest of it is professional thieves, people who steal long distance [service] in order to sell it," Angus told CBC News.

He claimed the long-distance minutes were sold by "call sellers," or street-level sales people who used the codes gained by the hackers to offer cheap long-distance calls via pay phones.  

A Bell Canada representative told CBC News that businesses ended up footing the bill in the end, even if it wasn't their employees making such calls.

Phone fraud was estimated to cost Canadian companies some $200 million a year, according to Hunter — a figure he said was high enough "to keep criminals guessing their way through voice mail, knowing there's a big market for that stolen long-distance feeling."

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