Re: Unauthorized Remote Access to Answering Machine

I've been doing chores for a vacationing relative. Tuesday, I

> answered his phone at 9 AM and got a series of beeps, perhaps half a > second long and three seconds apart. I waited and hung up. It > happened again two minutes later. > Two minutes later it rang a third time. I didn't get to it in time. > When I walked past the answering machine, the display said it was > being remotely accessed. > If my relative had called to check his answering machine, I didn't > understand why he had kept beeping me instead of replying when I said > hello. None of the messages had been erased. I'd never known him to > leave messages on the machine after checking. > Was it somebody fooling around? I asked another relative to phone and > try the machine manufacturer's default remote-access code, which was > incorrect. With the wrong code, the display said only for a second > that it was being remotely accessed. It had stayed on longer the > first time, as if the first caller really had checked the messages. > At 9 AM Wednesday morning it happened again. I listened a minute or > so, until the other end hung up. I realized the beeps were a pure > tone and not the sounds of a touchtone phone, so it wasn't my relative > trying to access his messages. When they called two minutes alter, > the answering machine got it. There was no third call. > Call Return gave me a number. It's not listed, but travel sites on > the web say it's the fax line of a fancy hotel hundreds of miles from > here. My relatives have never had occasion to stay in that city. > I don't know anything about fax protocol. When somebody answers, will > a fax machine emit a beep every three seconds or so for a minute or > so? Will it keep calling if a human answers but stop calling if an > answering machine answers? Can an answering machine mistake a fax > machine for a human with the access code? > Another possibility is that the Caller ID was faked and somebody is > using a machine to spy on my relative's telephone messages. Is there > such a device? > [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: It could be a spy machine, but I think > it more likely that you/relatives are being terrorized by an incorrectly > programmed fax machine at the First National Bank of Chicago. That > very fax machine, or one of its ancestors has a long history (25 years > or more) of auto-dialing the wrong numbers, and continuing to do so > until Illinois Bell has to threaten FNB with disconnection of the > phone line to get it to stop. 25 years ago, circa 1979-80 First > National Bank of Chicago's fax machine was programmed to call around > to various branches of the bank during early evening hours to 'poll' > for documents or deliver documents issued by the bank. Trouble was, > the humanoids in charge of the machine misprogrammed the dialing > string. They got an extra '01' in the string somewhere, so the machine > was calling _Germany_ during what would be the overnight hours in that > country. Religiously, several times per night, five nights per week, > that fax machine was calling a private family in Germany, and > terrorizing them. Just silence, then 'beep beep, etc', more silence > then more 'beep, beep'. After a week or two of this, the family, by > now frightened out of their wits, or really, more annoyed, ask for > intervention from Bundespost, and in due course Bundespost traced it > back to the idiotic Americans, and in turn asked AT&T to review the > problem. AT&T found it was coming from Illinois Bell territory, the > Wabash central office to be exact, and told those people to get the > problem cured. Like complaints made to the Illinois Commerce > Commission where the complaint is raised and the prissy old lady > secretary at the Commission makes a _single_ phone call of inquiry, > then folds her hands and announces self-righteously "I have called the > company and they _assure_ me it will be corrected" (and then it never > is), IB Telco tracked it down to the fax machine at the First National > Bank, made a phone call, said in essence to can the shit and get that > fax machine under control. But it was not cured, and the problems went > on for another month or so all night long. The German family inquired > further, Bundepost inquired again, and AT&T, more than a little > annoyed -- I guess Bundespost had really breathed on them a little > this time -- passed along their grief once again to Illinois Bell. > This time, a manager in Illinois Bell's security unit made a 'courtesy > call' on the bank's Vice President-Telecom and told him unless _he_ > would cure it, telco was going to cut off the fax machine line. The > VP-Telecom for the bank went downstairs with the proverbial hatchet in > hand, ready to do business on the spot, laid into his people and got > the fax machine reprogrammed on the spot. But, as Paul Harvey would > phrase it, 'the rest of the story is to follow'. Bank's telephone bill > arrived the next month, with page after page after page after page of > _LOTS_ of one-minute calls to the same number in Germany, one after > another, every couple minutes all night long. Since most employees of > First National Bank have the memory retention of a parrot or a tortoise, > bank employees in charge of reconciling the phone bill assumed, this > must be some screw up by the phone company, and by God, we are not > going to pay for a phone company mistake. Telco explained to FNB > (I assume with a straight face) what had happened. I do not know if > telco eventually wrote it off (as they used to do _everything_ that > a customer would not pay for) or not.

I wonder if the people using the hotel public fax machine wherever in

> your account also blamed the added charges on their bill on a screw > up by the hotel switchboard. Probably. Did you or will you tell your > relatives about this incident when they get back from their vacation? > PAT]

Thank you Pat! You've given me insight.

It didn't occur to me that a guest might send faxes over the same phone line by which the management receives faxes. The number is advertised as the fax line for Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem. The building was erected in 1836 as a textile mill. The inn is a sort of museum.

My relatives say they did stay there once. They think the hotel must have been trying to fax them travel ads but don't understand why they dialed the voice number.

That didn't sound right. Annoying people with faxes would discourage repeat business. Besides, under the law, an established business relationship does not justify faxing an ad without specific permission. And if the hotel were faxing a list of former guests, the list the second day would exclude those who had received their faxes the first day. So one would not expect the phone to ring at exactly 9 AM both days.

Suppose faxes submitted by hotel guests are cued until normal office hours. If the fax intended for my relatives was the first in line, that could be why the phone rang at 9 AM both days.

I couldn't find anyone who knew how it sounds to be called by a fax machine. So I installed fax software on my computer, faxed my relatives' voice line, and listened on an extension. I recognized the beeps. Apparently their answering machine took the beeping for a person having trouble punching a touchtone code. The machine's voice instructed the caller to punch the access code, and the answering machine waited. That explains why for several seconds the machine's display said it was being remotely accessed.

I can even explain why the voice line was dialed. is an online phone book that seems to be updated several times a year. For years, it has listed my relatives' fax number as their voice number. I suppose someone with a subscription to daplus could request fax numbers, and daplus would probably give my relatives' voice number as their fax number.

I think a hotel guest who wanted to fax my relatives got the wrong number from daplus. The first day, the guest got a report that the fax hadn't gone through, so the guest submitted it again.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Then they probably did it a few more times 'just to make sure of the number', etc. You did not say if the problem was still going on or not. PAT]
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