Family & Living

December, 29, 2004 - 10:16 AM / ET

SBC Communications Names Top Communications Scams And Threats Of 2004
Tips Can Help Consumers Safeguard Against Deceptive and Illegal Schemes in 2005


San Antonio, TX--(HISPANIC PR WIRE)--December 29, 2004--SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) today released a list of its most frequently reported cases of telecommunications scams and threats in 2004, including fraudulent telephone practices, Internet schemes and increasingly common identify theft scams. The company also issued consumer tips for safeguarding against deceptive or illegal schemes in 2005. To educate consumers, this year’s top communication scams and threats are described below, followed by important consumer prevention tips.

IDENTITY THEFT: According to the “The Identity Theft Prevention and Recovery Guide”, nearly 13 identity thefts occur each minute. And, according to an Identity Theft Resource Center study, victims can spend up to 600 hours recovering from the crime when dealing with credit agencies, banks and law enforcement. Thieves illegally obtain sensitive personal information such as credit card or social security numbers, often from discarded credit card statements, utility bills or personal checks. The information can then be used to open unauthorized landline or wireless telephone accounts, use existing credit cards or open new ones, and/or transfer bank funds. According to the FTC, phone or utilities fraud was the second most prevalent use of stolen identities (21 percent) in 2003, behind credit card fraud (one-third of victims).

“Do-Not-Call” List Scam – While “do-not-call” lists are intended to protect consumers from unwanted solicitations, some are using them as a springboard for scams. Consumers receive a call from someone claiming to represent federal or state “do-not-call” lists, and are then told they must disclose important personal information including Social Security numbers or bank account numbers to enroll in the registry. Such information is not necessary for inclusion on the “do-not-call” lists and the request may be an attempt to steal a person’s identity.

Spoofing or “Phishing” – A type of Internet counterfeit, this scam is executed when a person copies Web content from a legitimate organization onto a fraudulent URL or forges an e-mail so that it seems to come from a familiar person or organization. Consumers believe they are conducting business with a trusted business or person and may respond to solicitations or give out sensitive personal information as a result.

INTERNET THREATS: As Americans continue to migrate online and rely increasingly on the Internet, consumers should stay on the alert for the following Web threats, from modem hijacking and viruses, to online auction scams and more:

Modem Hijacking – The latest net scam can be costly to customers. When consumers inadvertently install a dialer from the Internet, pop-up ads appear on the user’s computer screen and automatically dial “pay-per-call” numbers or Web sites, including adult sites. The pop-ups can be difficult or impossible to get rid of, and consumers may not be aware of the charges until they receive their phone bill. In a form of modem hijacking frequently referred to as “international modem dialing,” expensive international calls are placed through the number.

E-mail Worms and Viruses – Ever-more-clever hackers continue to spread worms and viruses rapidly through software security vulnerabilities and e-mail. Rampant worms in 2004 included Bagle, MyDoom and Netsky, innovatively infecting systems, spreading themselves through e-mail and providing attackers a “backdoor” method for manipulation through infected servers. Internet worms can disable firewalls and antivirus software, potentially exposing sensitive information stored on the computer such as bank account information, credit card numbers, user names, passwords and computer files.

Online Auctions – Since the inception of online auctions, related fraud ranks at the top or near the top of the list of complaints filed annual with the FTC. The majority of these complaints are consumer reports that online purchases were not delivered or were misrepresented. “Bid siphoning” can also occur when shoppers are lured off of a legitimate site by the promise of the “same” item for less. Buyers can also be prompted to bid higher than necessary when sellers bid for their own items through fraudulent entries. One of the most popular scams is the “escrow” scam, conducted when the seller requests buyers use a specific escrow company to pay for auction items. Consumers are unaware the “fake” escrow service is fraudulently teaming with the seller to steal their money.

Spam and Chain Letters – Not only are these messages annoying, but unsolicited spam emails can trick consumers into investing in illegitimate business opportunities like “work at home” pyramid schemes, or sending large amounts of money in exchange for a greater payout. For example, victims of the “Nigerian Fee Advance” scam, a frequent example of this threat, receive unsolicited e-mails or faxes from a resident of Nigeria, Zimbabwe or Sierra Leone posing as a civil servant. The person pleads with the recipient to allow money to be transferred out of their country and into his or her bank account. Consumers who agree are promised a percentage of the funds being moved, but are required to pay the sender money before the deal can be finalized, purportedly to cover costs or bribes. Consumers can also receive a list of names with instructions to pay the people on the list a sum of money, put their own name on the list, and pass it along to others for a large payout. The FTC reports that this is currently one of the top e-mail scams in a recent report.

TELEPHONE SCAMS: Legitimate telemarketers can alert consumers to products, services and savings they may want or need. However, there are also telephone scam artists conning Americans each day. The National Fraud Information Center estimates that telemarketing fraud cost victims an average of $1,504 in 2003. In the first half of 2004, that average was already up to $2,085 per victim (January through June). Consumers should be aware of the following telemarketing scams reported in 2004:

72# Scam – This scam involves the illegal practice of forwarding a customer’s incoming calls without permission. Generally, the customer receives a collect call from an inmate facility or message encouraging the consumer to claim a prize. The caller asks the customer to input a series of numbers which in turn activates the customer’s call forwarding (72#) feature and gives the caller access to the customer’s phone line. Ultimately, the customer is billed for the forwarded calls, which include collect or long distance charges.

809 Area Code Scam – This common scam continues to catch consumers off-guard, and entices consumers to respond to e-mails, phone calls, numeric pages or voice mail messages by directing them to call a telephone number that begins with the 809 or 823 area code. These are legitimate area codes in the Caribbean which operate like 900 numbers here in the states. Some scam artists are taking advantage of the fact that some members of the public believe this is either an 800 toll free area code or one of the many new area codes in the U.S., rather than a “pay-per-call” number. Typically these messages encourage victims to call back to the “8XX” area code number on an important matter, such as a prize win or family medical emergency. Consumers who return the calls are charged international call rates on their telephone bills.

Slamming – Slamming victims have their telephone service providers switched without their knowledge or authorization. Slamming usually is the result of deceptive sales practices by telemarketers, including:

-- Gaining signatures for prize drawings or other legitimate-sounding reasons without making it clear that the signature will be used to switch the customer’s telephone service;

-- Sending checks to customers without adequate explanation that when the check is cashed, the customer’s local and/or long-distance provider will be switched.

-- Claiming to be a representative of a customer’s local phone company or alleging that they bill or provide services on behalf of that company, in order to get consumers to switch service.

Cramming – This scam occurs when charges for services consumers did not authorize are forwarded to a consumer’s local telephone company. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that charges often fall into three categories: one-time entertainment services, monthly recurring membership fees or telecommunications features such as voice mail and paging. Since the SBC local exchange companies are legally required to bill for unaffiliated long distance and information services providers, consumers should read bills carefully and formally dispute any charges they did not authorize or approve.

Reporting Scams and Fraud

If a consumer has questions about charges on a telephone bill, they should contact the carrier with whom the charge originated, whose name and toll-free telephone number should be printed on the same bill page as the charge in question. Often, the problem can be resolved with a single phone call. If the carrier with whom the charge originated does not agree to resolve the problem, SBC customers should contact an SBC customer service representative using the phone number on their bill or by going to http://www.sbc.com/contact_us. SBC representatives will work with the customer and the carrier to help get fraudulent charges removed from the phone bill. Consumers who believe they have are victims of slamming should contact the FCC by calling its toll-free hotline, 888-CALL-FCC. Further instructions for filing a complaint are available at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html. The Federal Communications Commission and most states have rules which penalize the unauthorized carrier and protect customers who are victims of slamming, provided the customer files a complaint.

Consumers who have been victims of identity theft can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling its toll-free hotline, 1-877-IDTHEFT. These consumers should also notify at least one of the major credit reporting agencies and continue to monitor their credit reports for 6-12 months following the suspected incident.

Consumers who have been victims of telemarketing or Internet scams can file complaints with the National Consumer League online or by calling 1-800-876-7060.

Visit http://www.sbc.com/help for more information about protecting your household from deceptive or fraudulent schemes.

SOURCE: “The Identity Theft Prevention and Recovery Guide” by Michael Pastore, Nov. 19, 2004. Available: http://www.insideid.com/idtheft/article.php/3438261

SOURCE: “Top Ten Telemarketing Scams,” National Consumers League & National Fraud Information Center. Available: http://www.fraud.org/telemarketing/half04telereport.htm.

SOURCE: “Internet Auction Fraud Targeted by Law Enforcers,” Federal Trade Commission. Available: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2003/04/bidderbeware.htm.

SOURCE: “Facts for Consumers,” Federal Trade Commission. Available: http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/consumer.htm.

SOURCE: “Identity Theft: The Aftermath 2003,” Identity Theft Resource Center. Available: http://www.idtheftcenter.org/index.shtml.

SBC Communications Inc. is a Fortune 50 company whose subsidiaries, operating under the SBC brand, provide a full range of voice, data, networking, e-business, directory publishing and advertising, and related services to businesses, consumers and other telecommunications providers. SBC holds a 60 percent ownership interest in Cingular Wireless, which serves more than 46 million wireless customers. SBC companies provide high-speed DSL Internet access lines to more American consumers than any other provider and are among the nation's leading providers of Internet services. SBC companies also now offer satellite TV service. Additional information about SBC and SBC products and services is available at http://www.sbc.com.

SBC is a registered trademark of SBC Knowledge Ventures, L.P. SBC Yahoo! DSL is an information service that combines DSL transport, Internet access and applications from SBC Internet Services, with customized content, services, and applications from Yahoo! Inc. Yahoo! logos are the trademarks of Yahoo! Inc. SBC logos are trademarks of SBC Knowledge Ventures, L.P. © 2004 SBC Knowledge Ventures, L.P. All rights reserved.

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