Scam uses business lines for long-distance - Quad-Cities Online: Iowa

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Scam uses business lines for long-distance

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Posted: Friday, September 11, 1998 1:00 am

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) -- At least one Iowa business has been duped in a telephone scam that tries to access outside telephone lines to run up long-distance calls.

Allen Memorial Hospital in Waterloo was victimized one weekend last month in what an official called ``a pretty elaborate scam.''

``We've got mechanisms in place to prevent it, but this time they got through,'' said Gary Rogers, manager of information systems for the hospital.

The scheme has several variations, but all begin with a call to or through an office switchboard by someone claiming to be a technician for a long-distance carrier. The ``technician'' claims to be running a test and asks the person receiving the call to help by forwarding the call to an outside line.

The request is often accompanied by specific instructions to dial an extension beginning with the numbers 90. On many private exchanges, the ``9'' gives access to an outside line, and on some systems the ``0'' will connect the caller with a long-distance operator.

``They get someone to give them a line, and then they dial out internationally,'' Rogers said.

In some cases, the caller claims to be an agent of the FBI or other law enforcement agency conducting an investigation.

Cheryl Smith Rardin, supervisor of fraud control for McLeod USA in Cedar Rapids, said the scam calls usually are made on weekends, when many offices are staffed by inexperienced and unsupervised employees.

Rardin said a Midwestern trucking company for which McLeod provides long-distance service was billed $11,000 for international calls made through its system.

Truck lines and hospitals are favorite targets of the scam artists because they often have toll-free numbers, allowing the incoming calls to be made free.

``Their first choice is to call on your 800 number so they don't have to pay for any part of your call,'' Rardin said. Failing that, she said, the caller may use a stolen calling card to make the initial call.

Rardin said the telephone industry is mobilizing to warn business customers of the scheme. She estimated dead-end long-distance schemes cost the industry $4 billion last year.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office has not investigated any so-called ``9-0'' scams, spokesman Bob Brammer said.

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