Regulator rolls back modem hijacking prevention steps


2 Dec 2004

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The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has overturned measures to tackle the problem of modem hijacking less than two months after they were introduced. The telecoms regulator has withdrawn a series of directions it had imposed, including a controversial block on long-distance calls to several overseas destinations.

Starting last October, the regulator had compelled Irish telecoms operators to suspend direct dial access to 13 destinations, including Sao Tome and Principe, the Cook Islands, Mauritiana and French Polynesia. In addition, providers were forbidden from charging customers for calls to any of those destinations. ComReg also called on internet service providers (ISPs) and operators to recommend to consumers some technology that could remove autodialler software, prevent it from working or block it from being installed in the future.

These exceptional measures were put in place to stop modem hijacking, an issue that is affecting a growing number of dial-up internet users in Ireland. Also known as autodialling or internet dialling, this is a fraud that occurs when users unknowingly download a piece of software which then changes their dial-up settings to call foreign destinations at great expense. Scammers are able to take a profit from the cost of the call. This fraud often takes place without the user realising and they become aware of the problem only after receiving their phone bills.

The regulator said in a statement that since introducing the measures, there had been a substantial reduction in instances of this kind of fraud suffered by consumers. Although there have been some cases since then, ComReg claimed that the higher level of public awareness as well as the corrective action taken by telecoms operators and ISPs has had a significant impact in lowering consumers’ exposure to the problem.

ComReg said that since taking the measures it had met with operators and ISPs to implement a long-term solution to the problem. Service providers now have a voluntary code of practice with consumer protection mechanisms that include refunding customers where they may be innocent victims of the fraud. According to ComReg, operators and ISPs have also improved their procedures for handling the issue which should result in less frequent occurrences of internet dialling in Ireland. These practices include providers sharing information with each other about numbers suspected of being associated with modem hijacking scams.

The telecoms lobbyist Peter Weigl, who publicised the problem of internet diallers earlier this year, said he was “amazed” at ComReg’s decision. “The argument that the customer is more informed doesn’t hold water because the campaign should have lasted for six months,” he told siliconrepublic.com. However he speculated that the strength of the regulator’s initial decision may have helped the telcos to come up with new processes to resolve the issue.

By Gordon Smith