TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Giant Conspiracy or Just Rotten Luck?

Giant Conspiracy or Just Rotten Luck?

Gordon S. Hlavenka (
Tue, 18 Oct 2005 07:35:04 -0500

I've posted before about the minuscule LD bills I get on my Qwest LD
account; usually less than a dollar a month, sometimes less than 50
cents. Total.

I deal with this "problem" by sending them $15 every year or so, and
letting the credit balance bleed down. Then when I get a bill where I
actually owe them something, I send another $15.

My usage is low because I make my LD calls on my cellphone, where LD
is included in the plan minutes. Qwest is also providing me with
inbound 800 service, which I used quite a bit when I ran my own
business. I may run another business someday and I like that 800
number so I'm keeping it.

Anyway, a few months back my phone bill jumped to over 50 DOLLARS.
This was due to a large number of calls placed to Mexico -- except (as
you can probably guess) I didn't make any calls to Mexico.

So I called Qwest, and they insisted their billing info was accurate.
I called SBC (my local telco) and they assured me the calls were in
fact placed from my number. Well, there are only three people who
have physical access to the phones here, and none of us called Mexico.
We do have quite a few PCs, but only one of them has a modem and that
modem is connected to a different phone line than the one with the
Mexico calls, so that rules out malware dialers too.

We do have a NID. It's mounted outside the house and is not locked,
but it is in a very visible location so anybody clipping in there
would be noticed for sure. Especially as they'd be standing right
outside our dining room window, and some of the disputed calls were
placed at dinnertime.

I called Qwest back, they "investigated", and determined that I was
responsible for the calls. However, they issued a "courtesy credit"
and so I was stuck with the taxes but not the calls themselves.

Care to guess what happened next month? That's right, folks, another
$50 of calls to Mexico! The calls are all to a handful of numbers in
the same area and at various times of day -- it really looks like a
normal calling pattern for someone with family in Mexico. It's just
not a normal calling pattern for ME :-/

Of course I called Qwest and SBC again, they both insist the calls are
mine. Qwest did another "investigation" and again determined that I
was responsible but declined to issue another credit. The Qwest rep
did suggest that I put a PIN on my LD; she said it was a free service
that required callers to dial a 4-digit "account code" and if they
didn't enter a valid code the call would not connect. So I set up
PINs for the three of us. The Qwest rep called back half an hour
later and apologized, but there was a $30 setup fee -- after _that_
the PINs were free. OK, I said, go ahead anyway.

Good news and Bad news: The Mexico calls stopped. But I now have a
$15.00 "minimum revenue" charge on my bill every month. The X-Files
fan in me says Qwest invented the Mexico calls just to get me to
"touch" my account so their computer could throw in the minimum
billing charge.

So, what do I do now? Obviously I'm going to call Qwest back and
raise whatfor, but then what? If I can't get my LD account "fixed"
then I'll have to port the 800 number elsewhere; any suggestions for
cheaply "parking" an 800 number? Also, any suggestions as to how
somebody could be cramming these LD calls onto my account? I've tried
talking tech with the SBC operators and all they will say is that the
line "tests OK" -- but they can't/won't tell me what their "test"
encompasses. They insist that the calls must be coming from inside
the house, since THEIR wiring is all so well protected nobody could
possibly be bridging in between my house and the CO. And of course
SBC's billing records are unassailable.

What I'd like to do (obviously) is get back to paying 50 cents a month
for practically zero LD usage. What tack should I take with Qwest to
return to those halcyon days, and if there is no such chance at Qwest,
who should I replace them with?

Gordon S. Hlavenka
If your teacher tells you to Question Authority
Should you do it?

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I am reminded of a sitution back in
the middle 1970's, when Illinois Bell first converted the WABash
central office in downtown Chicago to ESS. I had my little office
downtown in the Fisher Building, 343 South Dearborn Street. I was
there for _maybe_ two hours per day, most days, usually in the
middle of the day. I had _one_ phone for my personal use (not
associated with the banks of phones on the recorded message service.
That single-line business phone (WEbster-9-4600) was very
conservative, with an eighty unit allotment for local area calls,
which I never went through, or rarely. It was, I think, in those
days, ten dollars per month. One month I got a bill for about thirty
extra units; I grumbled to myself and said I would have to watch it
more closely. The next month the bill came and it was eighty or
a hundred units 'overage', and I thought that is really a bit much,
so I called our service representative at Bell, Miss Prissy and asked
her how could this be? Miss Prissy assured me I must have made all
those calls and just forgotten about them. And she assured me, 'we
now have a way to demonstrate what local calls you made, and I will
send you the print out.' (This was a month or two following the cutover
to ESS [WABash was first in Chicago, about 1973 or so.]) Sure enough,
a couple days later a big print out arrived in the mail for me to

I took this large print out and examined it. I made the arbitrary
decision that as I read through the list of numbers, all those numbers
I recognized I would accept as valid calls. Any numbers I did _not_
recognize I would accept as valid if they had occurred during the
time of day I was usually around that office. Any calls which occurred
at times I was quite unlikely to have been in the office (such as
7 AM any day) I would investigate further. In those days, there was a
reverse number lookup service at no charge called 'two oh eight oh'.
(You dialed any exchange anywhere in the Chicago area, then added the
suffix '2080' as in 312-922-2080. '2080 service' got you a clerk at
a desk in Illinois Bell's central office who would look up the desired
number from an index card file on her desk; she would tell you who the
subscriber was to that number.) So I took the several calls which had
been made around 7 AM and backtracked them in this way; specified
exchange plus 2080, passed the number on request and copied down the
results. The results were simply amazing: one number which showed up
a lot was an 'extended area unit charge' (meaning 5 or 6 units to
start with) to a place called 'IBT Truck Repair Depot' in Aurora, IL.
A few others went to something called 'Illinois Bell Locker Room,
343 South Dearborn Street' (in other words, a room there in the Fisher
Building given over to Illinois Bell as a 'semi-permanent' storage and
locker room area for IBT employees by building management. [Because
this older high rise building had so much phone activity all the time,
telco needed a 'permanent' place in the building to store tools, extra
phones, wires, etc]. I might mention that the basement of the Fisher
Building had _many_ telco wire distribution frames taking wires all
over the building [22-story older building, many business places
located therein, including answering service, etc.])

So it seemed rather plain to me: Some one or more telco employees were
using any phone in the building they wanted to make their own internal
calls for company business, i.e. the truck repair depot, the external
locker room/storage areas, etc. All they had to do was clip on at the
distribution frames in the basement and make their calls. And as I
told Miss Prissy, when I called back to ream her out good, obviously
since my number was on the end of the frame and ended in double zero,
i.e. '4600' therefore the dunces just knew it had to be some large
company which would never miss the units ripped off each month. I
called back Miss Prissy and asked her point blank "ever heard of
telephone company employees getting sued for theft of service?" She
was shocked that I phrased it like that, of course, and when I
presented her with my findings and how I had developed my case, she
said she would have to talk to her supervisor and get back to me.
About a half hour later she called back and told me, "my supervisor
has decided to write off _all_ the extra units on your bill for last
month and this month." I told her I expected someone to tell the
outside plant workers (and inside as well, for that matter) to _stay
off_ my line when they had to make calls. Miss Prissy agreed that
her supervisor had already taken this up with plant workers and there
would be no further instances of it.

So what you may want to do, Gordon, is not only think of the
imaginary person outside your window getting into your pairs, but also
look at every single multiple on your line between yourself and the
central office, and who could have clamped on anywhere along the
line. Larger older metro areas like Chicago are infamous in this way:
If subscribers only knew the _truth_ about how their lines can be
tapped into at various boxes. There is no such thing as a 'private'
line. Only a line which has some 'security through obscurity'. Telco
hopes that other folks do not know about 'borrowing pairs' from other
people in the neighborhood; telco just assumes their century-old
system of multiples on cable runs is still safe, and they'll try to
get you to believe that also if they can.

I recommend that _everyone_ who has had trouble with mystery phone
calls (especially 900 type calls) for which telco keeps insisting 'you
must have made the call' print this message out for future reference.
Will telco certify that your wire pair back to them is not multipled
anywhere? If telco cannot or will not certify that, then those calls
are not yours. Maybe telco employees perhaps, or possibly total
strangers, but telco has no business insisting that calls are yours
when there is anywhere the line is multipled. PAT]

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