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Phantom phone scam hits another village

BT's roadside boxes fingered

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Another village in the East of England has been targeted by premium rate crooks after they apparently gained "illicit access" to BT's phone network.

West Wickham in Cambridgeshire was targeted in May leaving some 20 or so homes stung by premium rate charges that residents insist were not made by them.

A victim told The Register: "We were charged for £86 of calls made between 11.30pm and 1.00am when we were in bed. We were the lowest bill. Most other people's bills were in the £150 price range.

"BT has refunded these charges, acknowledging that the 'calls were not originated from inside the residence'," he told us.

Last month, it emerged that residents in three villages in Essex and Norfolk were billed for calls made to premium-rate XXX phone services. In each of the cases residents said they didn't make the calls, raising concerns about "mystery" or "phantom" phone calls inflating people's phone bills.

In a statement, BT admitted that "an investigation by BT Security has shown that a number of customers in the East Anglia area have been affected by illicit access to the BT network.

"This has resulted in some customers receiving bills with unrecognised calls listed. The investigation has shown that the calls in question were not made from within customers' homes and we are in the process of refunding the customers that have been affected."

The question for many, though, is how could these calls be made without people's knowledge? Our man in Cambridgeshire has his own theory.

"I believe they [the rogue calls] originated in the roadside box as many of those who were charged shortly afterward had faulty lines and were also connected to the same roadside box," he told us.

Indeed, the question of how these phantom calls are made was raised by Liberal Democrat MP, Malcolm Bruce, earlier this week as MPs debated the increasing problems threatening the future of the premium rate services industry.

And Mr Bruce also believes BT should take a little more care with access to its network.

"Is it not the case that the boxes in the street are accessible with a T-key? Anyone who knows what they are doing can access them, dial a premium rate number and charge it to a domestic bill. Is not the first priority to have a little more security on the boxes?" he said.

A spokesman for BT insisted that the problem of premium rate phone calls appearing on customers' phone bills was "not widespread". He declined to comment on suggestions that criminals are breaking into BT's roadside boxes to make the calls. ®

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