Telecom fights back against 'robocallers'

An Auckland company director plagued by up 20 "robocalls" a day to his Telecom mobile is hoping the problem will now be solved.

Telecom has now offered him a new number and a "dummy" mailbox for the old phone number with a redirected recording. "Since the robocaller can't interpret caller greetings this will hopefully resolve my issue once the transfer is completed," he says.

Telecom's Call Investigation team have informed him that they are now "working through the appropriate processes to find the root cause", he says.

The director, who wishes to remain anonymous, has received calls from different overseas numbers, but with the same message -- a recorded voice asking for "Mike" -- since February this year. In the last two months the number of calls has escalated and now he gets as many a 15-20 every day, Computerworld reported last week.

"This appears to be no easy task as there are international boundaries to contend with and information from overseas providers as to the originating callers is not always forthcoming. Due to the variance in origin they are apparently having to try [to] trace individual calls through multiple nodes," he says.

Telecom has done a number of tests, which have found that numerous calls are coming through from various other phone network suppliers in the world, including AT&T (USA), Citic (Hong Kong), TFN (Taiwan), suggesting a spammer is using an autodialer and changing the incoming call number so that the number seen is invalid, says Telecom spokeswoman Julia Bell.

"When we raise the issue with a supplier, the origin of the calls change to another supplier," she says.

For example, the team raised the issue with Telecom's supplier in Taiwan about calls coming through on 14 November, and since then the calls have come from AT&T and Citic, she says.

One commonality between the affected customers is that they have published their mobile number on websites, and their numbers could have been on-sold to spammers, says Bell.

This is similar to email spam; when you publish your mobile number in an attempt to be called, you run the risk of receiving unwanted calls, she says.

If the suppliers are able to locate the source of the spamming they may be able to shut the spammer down depending on laws their country has in place around spam.

Bell adds it is likely that customers of other New Zealand providers are receiving similar unwanted calls. Messages run as a test on some unwanted China numbers showed that most calls into New Zealand were to 021 numbers, she says.

Telecom will continue to work with overseas suppliers to see if they can find the spammer and others like them and, if their laws allow, stop the spammer.

Meanwhile, other Kiwis have posted to phone number search site whocallsme.com. On 14 November, "SeaGee" wrote: "Initially I thought this was a real person on the line but it soon became evident that this is a computer-generated voice. The calls escalated to the point where I finally got my [telecomms] provider to change my number; very inconvenient. Is this perhaps a virus manifesting itself over VoIP?"

"Masterbrain" wrote on 29 September 2008: "I'm getting the same calls on a New Zealand mobile. Coming through either on +86 21... caller IDs or (new) +74... Weird!"

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