What IsToll Fraud?

Toll fraud is when hackers create numerous fake accounts using bots that generate a high volume of calls or messages through premium-rate phone numbers.

Also known as international revenue-sharing fraud (IRSF), toll fraud can pose huge financial risks to the targeted business. To carry out this form of artificially inflated traffic (AIT) attack, fraudsters exploit weaknesses in the account registration process. Many victims only find out about the attack after it happens, and they see the unexpectedly high charges. 

How Does Toll Fraud Work?

This type of fraud starts with the hacker finding vulnerabilities within the telecommunications system, like gaps in the account registration process. Next, they create seemingly legitimate fake accounts using automated bots or scripts. The attacker uses these accounts to start making unauthorized calls or sending SMS messages to expensive service numbers from telecom companies.

These premium numbers incur higher charges, with a portion directed to the carrier. The fraudsters, often in collaboration with telecom insiders, get financial gains through profit-sharing arrangements. Meanwhile, the unaware victim incurs significant costs in the form of an inflated phone.

Besides the financial impact, unexpected charges and service interruptions following the attack can damage a company's reputation and disrupt daily operations. This makes toll fraud a multifaceted threat to businesses.

The Effect of Toll Fraud on Businesses

1. Financial Losses

Unauthorized calls or text messages sent to premium-rate numbers incur inflated charges. These lead to unexpectedly high phone bills. Since businesses are often unaware of the fraudulent activity, they end up paying these bills for nothing in return. 

2. Operational Disruptions

The financial burden as a result of toll fraud can disrupt a company's everyday operations. Unforeseen and inflated expenses can hinder budget plans, forcing the business to cancel or postpone any planned initiatives or investments. This financial strain can extend to other operational aspects, keeping the victim from being able to allocate resources effectively.

3. Damage to Reputation

Toll fraud has the potential to tarnish a business's reputation. Being associated with fraud can damage trust among customers, partners, and other stakeholders. Perception is important in business. A bad reputation can drive away customers and make it harder to get new ones.

4. Resource Diversion

Dealing with the aftermath of toll fraud requires a great deal of resources. Businesses should spend time and effort investigating fraud, identifying weaknesses, and applying security measures to prevent future attacks. These efforts divert resources from core business activities.

5. Service Interruptions

Depending on the scale of the financial impact, toll fraud can lead to service interruptions. Telecom carriers will suspend services or place restrictions on accounts with outstanding charges. Service disruptions can hinder communication with customers, partners, and even internal contacts. 

6. Regulatory Consequences

Businesses can face regulatory scrutiny if the toll fraud attack is severe. Authorities will investigate security lapses, compliance issues, or breaches of data protection regulations. Consequences can include fines, legal actions, and the need for extra security measures to keep up with industry standards.

Detecting a Toll Fraud Attack

Unusual spikes in online registrations from high-risk countries can be a sign of a toll fraud attack. Many businesses often overlook this data. It’s important to monitor call and message volume patterns regularly.

Companies should also keep an eye out for unusual destinations of outgoing calls and messages. Hackers target international or premium-rate numbers to maximize unauthorized charges. 

Other common signs of toll fraud include unexpected service interruptions and irregularities in billing statements. Anomaly detection tools can help identify unusual patterns that signal the possibility of a toll fraud attack.

What to Do After Suspecting Toll Fraud

Upon suspecting potential toll fraud, businesses should immediately take steps to prevent further damage. This includes disabling any compromised phone systems or accounts. They should then report the suspected attack by contacting their mobile network operator.

Remember to keep SMS messages, call records, and other information as evidence for an investigation. Companies should report toll fraud to authorities and review security measures to find any weaknesses.

Preventing Toll Fraud

1. Keep Track of Vulnerability Scanning Threats

Hackers often know the ports that VoIP systems use, and they actively search for weaknesses that help them gain access to the victim’s network. Conducting periodic vulnerability assessments helps address any toll security gaps before fraudsters get a chance to exploit them.

2. Take Password Protection Measures

One basic toll fraud prevention method is to get rid of all default passwords because hackers can easily find them on the web. Companies need to enforce strong, unique passwords for user accounts and encourage regular password updates. Implementing two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security.

3. Limit Geographic Permissions

Another important step is to restrict geographic permissions for telecommunication services. If a company’s operations are primarily local, for example, it can limit its international calling and messaging capabilities. Geo-fencing can prevent unauthorized access from regions not relevant to any of the business activities.

4. Monitor Call and Message Logs

Always keeping track of call and message logs helps mitigate toll fraud. Real-time monitoring tools can help pinpoint any unusual activity. Examples include prolonged call durations, messages to premium-rate destinations, and unexpected surges in call or message volume.

5. Establish Rate Limits

Setting rate limits on the volume and frequency of calls and messages is also helpful. Establishing reasonable rate limits can prevent large-scale, automated toll fraud attacks. Businesses can configure these limits based on regular usage patterns, and any odd changes can trigger alerts for investigation.

6. Use Endpoint Security Solutions

Strong endpoint security solutions can protect systems and applications connected to telecommunications networks. Endpoint security protocols, like IPSec VPNs and SSH (Secure Shell), help prevent unauthorized access attempts as well as malware infections.

7. Limit International Calling Behavior

Businesses can configure their VoIP system to restrict international calls or messages. Limiting access to international numbers creates an extra layer of security, reducing the risk of toll fraud associated with premium-rate or international destinations. With an authorization code for international communications, companies can keep an eye out for unusual patterns more easily.