UPDATE: An IURC dismissal order in this case was issued on Aug. 23, 2006.
OUCC News Release, issued June 30, 2005:
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) is requesting a formal investigation of several companies regarding allegations of "modem hijacking," a scam that may target consumers who use dial-up modems for Internet access and may result in unauthorized charges on their telephone bills. The agency is also urging consumers to be aware of modem hijacking and know how to protect themselves.
In a formal complaint, the OUCC is asking the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to review allegations brought by six residential consumers in central, south-central and northeastern Indiana. The OUCC believes improper charges on those consumers' phone bills may be violations of the state's cramming law (IC 8-1-29 and 170 IAC 7-1.1-19), which prohibits telecommunications providers from adding unauthorized charges and services to phone bills. If cramming allegations are confirmed as a result of an IURC investigation, companies can face fines of up to $2,500 per violation.
The six consumers named in the OUCC complaint are contesting long-distance charges totaling more than $300, primarily for calls to the United Kingdom. The charges - billed by USBI on behalf of "One Call Comm" - appeared on customer bills on various dates in 2004 and 2005. The affected consumers advise that they did not authorize those calls.
Five companies are specifically named in the OUCC's initial complaint:
- OCMC, Inc., d.b.a. One Call Communications, Inc.;
- NFRAME, Inc., d.b.a. One Call Internet, Inc (formerly d.b.a. One Call Communications, Inc.);
- QAF, Inc, d.b.a. One Call Communications, Inc.;
- One Call Communications, LLC; and
- Billing Concepts, Inc., d.b.a. USBI
"Our belief, based on the information we have received, is that these improper calls were made through telephone lines connected to consumers' personal computers - without those consumers knowing their computers had made expensive, long-distance calls," said Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor Susan L. Macey. "While this underscores the need for consumers with Internet access to protect their computers, it also shows the need for all consumers to read their telephone bills very carefully each month. Reading your bill regularly and watching for anything unusual is the best way to protect yourself from telephone fraud."
The most common way modem hijacking happens is when a consumer visits a Website or opens an e-mail that feeds a virus into his or her computer (without the user's knowledge). The virus then disconnects the modem from the local connection number and reconnects it to an expensive international phone number. The consumer frequently does not discover the problem until receiving his or her phone bill.
Consumers can protect themselves from modem hijacking by following these steps:
- Read your phone bill carefully each month and keep copies of previous phone bills. (The OUCC's Understanding Your Phone Bill fact sheet can help.)
- Beware of "pop-up" windows while online and be very cautious when clicking on advertisements or visiting sites you?re not familiar with.
- Do not open an e-mail from a sender you are not familiar with, or any e-mail that looks suspicious. Delete those messages immediately.
- If a dialog box suddenly appears on your computer screen and indicates that it is making a new call to an unknown or unfamiliar number, cancel it to disconnect the call.
- Be sure a dial-up modem makes a noise that you can hear at any time it makes a call.
- Don't leave a regular phone line plugged into a dial-up modem if you have upgraded to a cable or DSL connection.
- Make sure your computer has up-to-date virus and anti-spyware software.
- Consider asking your local telephone service provider to block calls from your number to international and/or "900" numbers. There may be a one-time fee for setting this up.
- If you use a second phone line exclusively for Internet access, consider asking your telephone service provider to block all long distance calls on that line.
Any consumer who believes he or she is a victim of cramming or modem hijacking should contact his or her service providers and also contact the OUCC, either toll-free at 1-888-441-2494 or through the agency's Website. While a telecommunications service provider may be able to resolve your problem with one phone call, it is still important to contact the OUCC. Your call may help the agency in its efforts to protect other consumers.
In addition, the OUCC's OpenLines Telecommunications Consumer Handbook offers helpful advice on how to prevent telephone fraud, along with steps to take if your service is crammed. The handbook is free and available on the OUCC Website or by calling the agency's consumer services staff.
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) is the state agency that represents the interests of all utility consumers and the public in matters related to the provision of utility services. The agency is active in proceedings before regulatory and legal bodies, and committed to giving consumers a voice in the creation of utility service policy. Residential, commercial and industrial customers with questions or concerns regarding utility service can contact the OUCC toll-free at 1-888-441-2494 or online at www.IN.gov/OUCC.
(IURC Cause No. 41546-SC-08)
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