Who’s really calling you?

They’re called “phreakers,” and they can do with a phone what hackers can do with computers.

That’s the way Dan Morrell‘s Boston Magazine article about a blind teenager and master phreaker, Matt Weigman, began last February.  The story got a little more play when Rolling Stone essentially rewrote the same piece in late 2009.

Then everyone went back to not caring.

Now it’s 2010 and there are hundreds of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) apps for the iPhone, etc.  You may have heard of this little one called Skype. Basically, VOIP allows you to call people through an internet IP address.

While Skype has been a big sucesss, there are now also a bunch of less than reputable VOIP apps that allow you to “jailbreak” other people’s phone numbers.  Some VOIP apps allow the caller to trick the caller ID of the person being called into thinking they are calling from an entirely fictitious phone number.

*67 was so 1996.  The caller no longer shows up as a private number (ala *67), which many phones block and police can still trace.

Now when that jilted lover is calling to harass you at 1 in the morning, an entirely fictitious phone number will appear.  “Phreaking” has gone mainstream. Yep, there’s an app for that.

Remember when there were shadowy hackers in the 90s,  picture the movie by the same name (think Matthew Lillard pre-Scream)?  Next thing you knew, every mediocre and mildly disgruntled slacker in every basement in America had a copy of the America Online tormenting program AOHELL.

That’s where we are at.

Katie C. writes on her now private blog:

One minute later, at 11:50, my phone was ringing again. The number showing up on caller id was 610-878-9477. I said “hello?” shortly and I will not even repeat the vulgar and awful things that were said to me, but I was threatened and harassed meanly…

I then called the police, and filled them in on what was happening. They told me to turn off my phone, but I told them I really couldn’t, as it’s my alarm clock. About an hour later, a seargant from the Towamencin police called me back and said he had called the first number…

I am not giving up. I will go to the FBI if my local municipality does not have the technology needed to track down these perpetrators. I learned that the technology used in these applications is called VOIP (voice over IP) technology, and basically the IP address of the phone can be tracked. I will do everything in my power to track that phone and find out who would do this to someone…

Good luck Katie.  Until law enforcement catches up, it might be time to invest in alarm clocks.

Addendum: How long before telemarketers are using this to get around blocked calling lists–or are they already?

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8 Responses

  1. That’s scary. I wish they had a less disturbing name than phreaker. Hacker sounds sort of dull like he’s a slacker cab driver.

  2. aolhell?? i remember that shit! Remember when you used to have to dial up AOL at like 14,440 speed or something and you’d be super pissed if you got on at like 8 or 9k. 28800 was decent and your rich friend had 56k??? kids are weird these days i don’t wanna think about the shit theyll pull with these phone number apps. good luck Katie, i hope your police get the guy!

  3. Awesome post! I’m glad you’re educating the masses Tom. I had no idea until this shiz started happening to me. Thanks for the well wishes, eMacChez!!!!

  4. Had this done to me as well, using an internet program. It made it look as if my number was calling my roommate. Freaky thing, I turned off my phone, took out the battery, and it was still calling her. I thought I was in the movie One Missed Call, especially when the person on the line made choking noises. Scary, scary stuff!

    It turned out to be one of our friends, who didn’t tell us til a week later. A week that consisted of us sleeping in the living room together.

    I hope it works out Katie! And make sure you’re friends aren’t immature 🙂

  5. your*

  6. From “Mean Girls”

    Regina George: Wedell on South Boulevard.
    Gretchen: Caller ID
    Regina George: Not when you connect from information.
    Taylor Wedell’s Mom: Hello?
    Regina George: Hello, may I please talk to Taylor Wedell?
    Taylor Wedell’s Mom: She’s not home yet who’s calling?
    Regina George: This is Susan from Planned Parenthood, I have her test results. If you could have her call me as soon as she can. It’s urgent, Thank You.
    [Taylor Wedell’s mom faints]
    Regina George: She’s not going out with anyone.

    That is my comment.

  7. i love the blog post. very cool and informative. from what i learned, the FBI has been using this technology for years to get a hold of criminals who wouldn’t answer the phone for a blocked number but might from say, their drug dealer. So once again, the power of technology goes from useful to abused by the time it reaches the masses.

  8. I guess it comes back to using your noggin. Nothing beats knowing the voice on the line, meeting eye-to-eye and trusting your instincts. I’m fairly techy, but I wasn’t aware of this. In regard to this, I’d worry most about getting calls from your “bank” or “doctor”. Better start pulling a Tyler Durden and never answer; always call back.

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