As most travelers away from home or the office have discovered, the long distance calling card had become an indispensable accessory in the information age.
Unfortunately, thieves have also recognized the value and utility of the long distance calling card and are increasingly targeting it for theft.
Although most travelers are aware of the need to protect their bank credit cards, they do not realize that their calling cards are also the target of thieves. Organized criminal elements steal calling cards in order to run so-called "call-sell" operations in which the criminals use stolen calling cards and other means to legally sell domestic and international telephone calls to the public for $5 or $10 per call.
Aside from the monetary losses caused by these unscrupulous people, the theft of calling card authorization codes can result in significant inconvenience to legitimate users since all of the telephone companies attempt to minimize losses by deactivating all codes that have been compromised and are being used fraudulently.
It is important to note that these thieves do not have to actually steal the card itself, but rather only need to learn the unique 14 digit authorization code in order to illegally use the card. In many cases, the authorized users never lose possession of their cards, but are simply surreptitiously observed by the call-sell operators as they use their cards at public pay phones.
Now that you know about the problem, here are 7 recommendations to help keep your card from being compromised:
1. MEMORIZE YOUR CALLING CARD NUMBER
The calling card that you have been issued provides a unique method of identifying you as being authorized to make long distance telephone calls. Using calling cards from a public telephone, however, provides numerous opportunities for a thief to obtain a calling card number.
If it is necessary to refer to the card every time that a call is placed, there is the danger that the caller may inadvertently forget to retrieve it after they have completed their calls.
In addition, removing the card from a purse or wallet gives the thief the opportunity to copy the number. If the calling card is memorized, it will reduce the likelihood that a thief will be able to compromise it.
2. BE AWARE OF PEOPLE LOITERING AROUND PAY PHONES
Investigations conducted by Qwest have determined that call-sell operators routinely loiter around pay phones, particularly large banks of telephones that are common at airports, train stations, hotels etc., in order to observe callers as they use their calling cards. They then record the authorization number so that they will be able to subsequently use it to place calls for their customers.
Be alert to anyone who may be loitering in the area where you are placing al call. These people may pretend to be having a conversation at a nearby telephone and typically will have a pad of paper and pencil nearby in order to record calling card numbers. Some of the thieves, however, have the ability to instantly memorize card numbers so not all of them need to immediately write down the number.
The best rule to follow is to sand directly in front of the telephone while you are keying in your authorization code on the keypad. The call-sell operator needs to have all 14 digits of the calling card in the correct sequence in order to use it. It will be difficult for the call-sell operator to steal your code if it is keyed in quickly and the view of the keypad and dialing sequence is obstructed.
3. WHEN PLACING OPERATOR ASSISTED CALLS, USE NORMAL CONVERSATIONAL TONE
The placement of operator assisted calls provides another opportunity for the criminal to learn authorization codes. Instead of observing and recording the code of the card itself or as it is entered on the keypad, the criminal simply records the number as the caller recites the card number to the operator.
When verbalizing your code, speak directly into the mouth piece and face directly towards the telephone. Speak at a normal conversational tone and try to be aware of anyone who may be trying to eavesdrop.
4. DON'T SHARE YOUR CALLING CARD NUMBER WITH OTHERS
If you are on the road with a fellow employee or associate it may be tempting to allow them to use your card number to place "only one call". Guard the confidentiality of your calling card number like you would your Visa MasterCard, American Express card or other credit cards.
5. DON'T GIVE YOUR CALLING CARD NUMBER OUT TO "TELEPHONE SECURITY" OR OTHERS
Your Qwest calling card number is confidential information. NEVER disclose it to anyone except to an operator when you are making a long distance call.
Anyone who calls you and asks for your calling card number for any reason is probably attempting to use your number illegally in order to charge calls to your account. NEVER give out your card number to anyone who calls you.
For example, individuals posing as telephone security officers may ask for your calling card number claiming a need to deactivate its use and protect the code rom abuse. Remember - Legitimate Qwest investigators do not need to call you for your code if fraud is detected.
It is also possible that the caller will state that it is necessary to activate a new feature or some other reason that requires you to divulge your calling card number. Some of the thieves will give you a "call-back number" so that you can "verify" the caller. This number does not ring at the telephone company but at the thief's location.
No matter how compelling the argument, there is no reason for a legitimate telephone company representative to ask for you number (unless, of course, you are giving it to the operator when you want to charge a call), so don't disclose it.
Please report suspicious calls to Qwest.
6. DON'T USE YOUR CALLING CARD TO VERIFY IDENTIFICATION
The authorization code number that has been issued to you is confidential and, therefore, you should never use your card as a means of verifying your identity. Anyone who comes into possession of your number will be able to use it, so keep it confidential.
7. REPORT LOST OR STOLEN CALLING CARDS
If your wallet is lost or stolen you would immediately cancel your bank cards as well as your retail and oil company credit cards. But would you call to cancel you calling card? You may think to yourself that there is nothing that the thief can purchase with it.
To the unscrupulous thief, however, the ability to sell international long distance calls makes your stolen card number very valuable. In order to minimize the resulting financial consequences and inconvenience, you should report the loss of your card to Qwest and the Systems Office as soon as you become aware of it. The quicker you report a loss or stolen card, the faster a possibly compromised card number can be deactivated; and just as importantly, the sooner you report your card as lost or stolen, the sooner you will be issued a new card which will insure that your ability to place calls is not impeded.
In a society increasingly dependent on telecommunications we are seeing new and different scams all the time. The best method of stopping fraudulent use of a calling card is prevention and the best method of prevention is using the basic precautionary methods described above.