April 28, 2016
When it comes to cyber-crime, security breaches seem to be most people’s greatest fear. And given recent cyberattacks against the healthcare industry (see More Hackers are Targeting Healthcare Providers), Android devices (see Your Android Device May Be Vulnerable to Hackers) and other major networks (see New Cyberattack Targets 1,000 Major Networks – and Probably More), it’s no wonder that cybersecurity has become a hot topic.
But the reality is that system hacks and cyberattacks are only part of the picture. While these types of cyberattacks undoubtedly take most of the public spotlight, a much slower and steadier method of cyber-crime could be at work – and costing you money on a monthly basis.
Toll free traffic pumping (also known as access stimulation) is an underestimated and largely unknown culprit that could slowly but consistently be harming you financially.
From the FCC: “When you make a long distance call, that call is generally handled by a number of telephone companies – Your local carrier delivers the call from your phone to a long distance company, the long distance company carries the call most of the way to its destination, and then the call is handed off to the local carrier that serves the party you’re calling. Under today’s rules, the long distance company pays a fee, called an “access charge,” to the local carrier that delivers the call to the called party.”*
This is where fraud ensues. Traffic pumping occurs when a computer or server artificially generates calls to toll free numbers. The numbers making the calls are “spoofed” and the duration of these calls can vary from a few seconds to as long as 600 minutes – which becomes problematic especially when the calls are answered by auto-response machines.
The end result is that traffic pumpers (typically several carriers behind a CLEC) abuse these access charge rules, since the toll free service provider cannot determine the true origination call after multiple handoffs. Thus, carriers may unknowingly be carrying toll free traffic pumping calls, and traffic pumpers are getting money for completing calls.
According to the FCC: “The arrangement inflates or stimulates the number of calls into the local carrier’s service area, and the local carrier then shares a portion of its increased access revenues with the “free” service provider, or provides some other benefit to that company. The local company’s profits from such an arrangement are typically so great that its charges become unreasonable and unlawful under FCC regulations.”*
It’s important to understand that any individual, company, or public service with a toll free phone number can be a victim of traffic pumping (e.g. call centers, customer care lines, or public health lines).
As a victim of toll free traffic pumping, you could:
In addition, traffic pumping can distort investment incentives: long distance companies are forced to recover the costs from their customers, including those who do not use those services.
It also harms competition by giving an advantage to companies offering free calling services versus companies that charge their customers for the service.
Though the FCC is currently working to pass stricter rules to hinder traffic pumping, it’s still a problem that continues largely due to victims being unaware. That’s why it’s essential to recognize whether you may be a victim of traffic pumping.
To identify traffic pumping, keep an eye out for these telltale symptoms:
What To Do Next
In the event that you suspect that you’ve become a victim of traffic pumping, the FCC recommends reporting the incident to your telecom provider and filing a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov. Be sure to note specifically: