Identity Thieves Could Have Your Number

The Phone Rings and Then Silence. Identity Theft? Maybe.

By Robert E. Holtfreter, Ph.D., CFE, CICA

MarchApril-Taking-Back-the-ID-HoltfreterTaking Back the ID 



For a week, Calvin Tuxedo received strange calls every day on his home and cell phones. In some cases when he answered, there was nothing but silence on the other end. In other instances, he was bombarded with solicitors, recorded messages and phone sex menus. When he first started to receive the calls, he was only a little annoyed. But after a while, he refused to answer any calls, thereby doing a disservice to his friends and others who had valid reasons to call him.


He shared what was happening with his friends and coworkers and learned that others had received similar phone calls. Little did he know that his problems were only beginning. At some point, identity thieves who were behind the phone calls had transferred a total of $15,000 out of his checking account, using his personal financial information, which they had hijacked in some manner. Calvin became a victim of a telecommunications denial-of-service (TDoS) attack, a relatively new identity theft telephone scam.




This case is fictional, but TDoS attacks represent a growing problem that the FBI’s Newark, N.J., division addressed in a warning to the public on June 21, 2010. That warning was titled: “Fraudulent Telephone Calls Allow Fraudsters Access to Consumer Financial and Brokerage Accounts.”


The FBI became aware of TDoS attacks through a private partner who reported that a dentist from Florida had been bilked out of $399,000. Kim Zetter, writing for Threat Level on May 12, 2010 (“Thieves Flood Victim’s Phone with Calls to Loot Bank Accounts”), reported that this particular incident of the fraudulent scheme played out as follows:


Last November, Robert Thousand Jr., a semi-retired dentist in Florida, received a flood of calls to his home land line, office line and cell phones for a month, with calls in every 30 seconds. When he answered them, he heard a 30-second recording for a sex hotline, according to the St. Augustine Record. In December, he discovered that $399,000 had been drained from his Ameritrade retirement account shortly after receiving the calls. About $18,000 was transferred from his account on November 23, with a $82,000 transfer following two days later. Five days after that, another $99,000 was drained, followed by two transfers of $100,000 each on Dec. 2 and Dec. 4.


The fraudsters obtained Thousand’s personal financial information in some manner and used it in conjunction with the TDoS attacks to transfer money out of his brokerage account. On the positive side (and fortunately for Thousand), Ameritrade reimbursed him for his losses.


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