Drawing The Line

Watching your telephone expenses like a hawk so you don't pay for unnecessary employee calls or carrier charges is always a good idea. But are you also looking for signs of toll fraud? Although large businesses with bigger phone systems are more at risk, no business is immune, especially as high-tech thieves become more advanced in finding new ways to violate your business.

One way hackers commit toll fraud is by breaking into voice-mail systems and using them without authorization. Although active mailboxes that are password protected are rarely at risk, unused mailboxes are easier targets. Hackers get forwarded to the "phantom extension" from an operator and then enter a default password programmed by the manufacturer to get a dial tone, which they can then use for personal calls.

Calling cards are another area for potential abuse. Known as "shoulder surfing," thieves observe numbers that are punched in when you or your employees call from pay phones or use telephones in unsecured areas.

There are several ways to protect your business. First, never let employees forward callers to an unknown company extension, and change your personal identification numbers frequently. Also, analyze bills as soon as they arrive; excessive calls to certain areas, particularly the 809 area code in the Caribbean, is usually a sign of a problem. Also, some companies, including MCI, soon plan to release software that will allow small businesses to analyze their calling patterns to help spot potential abuses.

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This article was originally published in the August 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Name-Calling.

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