Telecoms fraudsters threaten cash-strapped firms


29 Jan 2009

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Perpetrators of telecoms fraud – or time thieves – are stealing millions of euro annually from businesses already under significant pressure due to the recession, and the problem is predicted to get worse.

Telecoms services firm Minute Buyer warned that international and Irish-based telecoms fraudsters are targeting Irish businesses, and exploiting weaknesses in their telecoms security to steal millions of euro annually.

Recent market intelligence from Minute Buyer points to a significant increase in telephone fraud and hacking in Ireland over the past three months.

According to Shaun Hayden, director of Minute Buyer, while accurate fraud figures are nearly impossible to pin down because so many organisations are reluctant to talk about it publicly, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation estimates that time theft is costing Irish companies millions annually.

“The economic downturn has, it seems, brought with it an increase in opportunistic ‘time theft’ fraud,” he warned.  

“Over the past three months, we have encountered a significant increase in episodes of time theft. We urge Irish companies to review their phone system security and internal phone procedures to minimise the risk of falling victim to these serious fraud techniques.

“Companies need to treat their PBX (Private Branch Exchange) system the same way they treat their computer network. No one would leave their network without adequate security measures, and it is an unfortunate sign of the times that we must now do the same with our phone systems.”

Hayden warned there are two types of telecoms fraud: large-scale PBX hacking by experienced hackers and, second, the internal misuse of telecoms systems by staff. Hackers employ an array of tools from password-stealing software to automatic diallers that circumvent security measures commonly employed by the vast majority of Irish businesses.

Time theft or telecoms PBX fraud is one of the most profitable and easiest crimes to commit, as it carries minimal risk because it is difficult to detect until the damage is already done.

“Time theft requires both sophisticated and common-sense solutions to combat it,” Hayden said.

“While the fundamental technology of PBX switches is undoubtedly sound, it is the way in which telephony is managed after installation that gives rise to many of the problems. Unfortunately, many Irish companies just don’t have the in-house expertise to deal with this problem. The time-theft costs are particularly tough on smaller SMEs, which cannot absorb the costs the way larger companies can.”

MinuteBuyer has developed a bespoke monitoring tool, the MinuteBuyer PBX Fraud Alert, to protect its clients from any fraudulent activity. The MinuteBuyer PBX Fraud Alert is a managed service aimed at companies with over 50 staff members.

A serious spike in unregulated telecommunications activity could be very costly for such organisations, and the MinuteBuyer PBX Fraud Alert is offered in conjunction with another Irish technology firm, Soft-ex.

Using the MinuteBuyer PBX Fraud Alert, all the call statistics generated by your PBX are captured around the clock and processed to generate business-critical cost information and reports. All aspects of telecoms activity – from a top-level overview to specific details about each and every call – are clearly visible.

The system will also safeguard companies from internal and external dial-through fraud. When an unusual change in activity occurs, an instant message (by email or text) is sent to a nominated person within the organisation.

By John Kennedy