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]

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