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Phone phishers hop on filesharing legal threats bandwagon

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Fraudsters have begun cold-calling householders to accuse them of copyright infringement online and threaten them with court action, an ISP has reported.

The development comes soon after the law firm Davenport Lyons won a widely-reported £16,000 default court award for a videogames firm from an alleged filesharer. Davenport Lyons followed up the default judgement by telling newspapers that it had identified 25,000 more targets that it would take to court if they did not pay a £300 settlement.

Small ADSL provider UKFSN received a support call yesterday from an elderly customer who was concerned after being contacted by a scammer on Tuesday.

Accused of illegally sharing music, UKFSN's subscriber was savvy enough to refuse to give any details, and turned the tables on the caller, demanding to know where they were calling from. When they refused to provide credentials he hung up.

UKFSN's Jason Clifford posted some details of the incident on a broadband forum. He told El Reg: "They told my customer they had proof he had been filesharing illegally. The important thing to remember is that no ISP would give out a phone number in a legal case."

Two enforcement patterns have been recently adopted by rights holders on an unprecedented scale as they intensify their battle against illegal filesharing in the UK.

Record and film industry bodies are calling on ISPs to work in partnership with them when they detect an infringing IP address. The "enforcement" action taken by compliant providers generally involves a warning letter or letters being sent to the customer the IP is associated with. The BPI has won government backing for a such an effort on a large scale to caution net users against sharing unlicensed music. Last week we reported on how Tiscali tried to comply with a request from the movie studio MGM and got it badly wrong.

At the grubbier end of the scale, Davenport Lyons works with infringement detection firms to monitor BitTorrent networks. It then approaches rights holders and offers to win cash from individuals on their behalf. The High Court will then rubber-stamp an order forcing ISPs to disclose the physical addresses of those concerned, and Davenport Lyons is then free to fire off letters demanding for £300 and threatening court action.

In either case, phone numbers are never disclosed.

Many observers, including Reg readers, predicted that fraudsters would seize on lawyers' highly-publicised efforts to extract cash from internet users. And lo, it has come to pass. Email phishers can't be far behind. ®

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