Watch out for modem hijacking
-warns GT&T By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
July 12, 2004

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Local internet users can end up being billed for calls to Portugal and other countries as part of an internet scam known as "modem hijacking".

The practice comes at a time when a large Canadian telephone company has restricted direct-dial access to several countries including Guyana.

From July 1, Vancouver-based Telus Corp, Canada's second largest telephone company began blocking calls to Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Nauru and Sao Tome as a result of losses through illegal calls via a method termed "modem hijacking".

This action was taken after the companies received several complaints about inflated long distance charges made after their internet modem was hijacked while they were browsing the internet.

Bills ranging from C$100 to as much as C$3,000 have been received by subscribers resulting in several complaints.

Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd (GT&T), Director of Rate Making, Gene Evelyn said this will not affect its services. He said Canadian subscribers would have to go through an operator instead.

He added that GT&T as recently as last year had issued an alert to internet users about the need to protect their modems through not signing in to certain sites.

Explaining the scam, he said some programmes on the internet are designed to disconnect the user's modem and replace it with ones which place international calls mostly through pornographic sites.

Once these calls are hooked up, the customer is billed the cost for making that call although they never intended to make it.

Evelyn further indicated that the problem is not an isolated one as the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has put out notices advising telephone subscribers and internet users of such sites and the possible effects.

"Some Web sites may be advertised as "free and uncensored" or may allow information to be downloaded. However, a pop-up window with a disclaimer should appear. The disclaimer usually reveals information on possible charges or the re-routing of the Web site. It may say, "you will be disconnected from your local Internet access number and reconnected to an international location" (which may be Chad, Madagascar, or Vanuatu).

And local customers have also been caught up in the scam. According to GT&T, customers who dial in to a local ISP, sometimes visit particular sites whose content is of the adult variety encouraging users to download software in order to view certain material. It is this downloaded software that then disconnects the computer's modem and reconnects it using an international long distance number.

"This way, the modem may actually be placing an international call (mostly to Portugal, based on the complaints we have received) without the customer being aware. Such an international call is no different from one that the customer would take a conscious decision to place and is, therefore, billed like any other international call," the GT&T release said.

Customers can protect themselves by carefully reading disclosures that appear [mostly in pop-up windows] before downloading programmes from the Internet, even when the website is advertised as "free and uncensored."

According to the telephone company, customers can activate the International Line Restriction (ILR) feature.

"This way, any attempt the modem makes to initiate an international call will be frustrated."