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Sen. Schumer: Al Qaeda-linked phone hackers costing NY small businesses

A phone hacking ring with ties to Al Qaeda-related groups in the Philippines and Somalia have targeted small businesses in New York, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of overseas long distance calls, alleges a U.S. senator from New York.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said in a press conference on Jan. 7 that the ring is exploiting gaps in telecommunications carriers’ protections against such activities. He called on the carriers and the Federal Communications Commission to immediately strengthen consumer protections.

According to Schumer, the ring has a connection to Syracuse and is currently being investigated by law enforcement, but its members have not been caught.  He added that 26 businesses in New York's capital area, which includes Albany, area have come forward to say they’ve been victims of a communications scheme.

Schumer said hackers were manipulating businesses’ voicemail systems to make thousands of costly long-distance calls overseas, leaving New York businesses on the hook for the substantial bills. He told local reporters that phone numbers compromised in Syracuse are being connected to phones that are known to be linked to the terror organization in Somalia and the Philippines.  Schumer speculated the operation may be a revenue-generator for Al Qaeda, or a way to communicate with inconspicuous numbers. However, he said in a Jan. 7 statement that the connection the hackers have to Syracuse “still must be confirmed.”

“Already, dozens of New York small businesses have fallen prey to these hackers through their voicemail systems, and are often forced to cover the cost for weeks-worth of overseas calls,” he said. One dry cleaning company in the area, he said, was hit with a $150,000 phone bill for nearly 9,000 overseas calls. That business is currently in a legal battle with its telephone provider over the bill.

Telecommunications companies, he said, lack policies that freeze accounts that experience suspicious activities. He repeatedly urged the FCC and carriers to take immediate action to plug the security gap.

Onondaga County First Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio and the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office said in recent months, police reports in the case indicated links to a broader phone hacking scam connected to Al Qaeda cells in Somalia and the Philippines. Trunfio also said there have also been reports that the hackers phone lines could be run through Syracuse as a way to target New York businesses.

“The federal government must be doing everything it can to stop these unfair and deceptive practices that not only put businesses and telephone providers at risk, but also are a potential source of information for criminals and terrorists overseas,” said Schumer.


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