The Toronto Star
Wednesday, January 29, 1997
page

Porn on Net leads to big bills

Overseas phone flip boosts phone bills, police say

by Robert Brehl, bbrehl@tsnl.com

A bizarre scam involving pornography on the Internet has cost victims hundreds of dollars, Royal Canadian Mounted Police say.

Some victims have been unknowingly charged up to $1,200 to download porn from the Web site (sexygirls.com), said Corporal Marc Gosselin, of the RCMP's computer crime unit.

Gosselin said the scam worked this way:

When it is clicked on, the viewer's modem is disconnected from the regular local Internet service provider, Gosselin said.

Then the dialer volume is turned off, and a phone number in Moldova, in the former Soviet Union, is dialled.

Surreptitiously, the person's computer in Canada is then hooked to a phone number in Moldova, Gosselin said.

From Moldova, the call is bounced back to a computer in Scarborough where the pornographic pictures are stored.

``You're accessing a server in Scarborough through a long-distance call to Moldova'', Gosselin said.

The scam can continue even after viewing the pornography.

That's because Internet surfers may move on to other Internet sites, but are still unknowingly connected to Moldova and racking up long-distance charges, Gosselin said in an interview from Montreal.

Because the investigation is continuing and charges are pending, the Mounties refuse to name the company in Scarborough.

The Star attempted to send an E-mail to officials connected to (sexygirls.com). The page has an area for sending E-mail, but would not accept electronic messages from The Star.

The website boasts having had more than 1 million visitors since Jan. 1, 1997. That number could not be verified.

The RCMP has ordered that all calls from Canada to the number in Moldova not be connected, so this scam has been stopped, the corporal said.

But telecommunications experts say oodles of other potential scams are out there, and consumers should beware.

Ian Angus, author of the book Phone Pirates, said using the Internet is the latest twist in scamming people on long-distance charges.

``It's not just a dirty trick, it's business, big money'', Angus said.

That's because it's common for phone companies in foreign countries to try to attract calls from the lucrative North American market, he said.

Typically, foreign phone companies enlist entrepreneurs to generate calls and then, in turn, pay the entrepreneurs a percentage of each call.

Canadian phone companies ``must pay international settlement charges to foreign countries even if they can't collect at home'', said Angus, president of Angus Telemanagement.

Bell Canada spokesperson John Peck said the company will look at each complaint before deciding whether to waive the charges.

``But we're on the hook for it, too'', Peck said. ``Chances are the individual will be held responsible.''

If Bell waived the charges, other Bell customers and shareholders would be subsidizing the charges rung up, unknowingly or not, by people downloading pornography.

Gosselin and Angus said Bell probably won't get too many complaints because of the embarrassment factor for victims forced to admit what they were doing in order to argue for a rebate.

The RCMP has had 20 complaints so far, but hundreds of others have probably been taken, Gosselin said.

He said it would be several weeks before any charges are laid related to unauthorized access to computers and fraud.


Copyright © 1997 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.