Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


School phone system hit by fraudulent calls


Alaska Power and Telephone officials are investigating a series of unauthorized overseas phone calls originating from a Haines School phone number.

School officials were notified by ATT Global Fraud Management Oct. 31 that 400 calls totaling as much as 74 hours had been made from the number to places like Austria and Serbia, school officials said this week.

“The fraud line called and said, ‘You’ve got calls going to Serbia.’ I said, ‘What?’” said district secretary Ashley Sage.

Computer teacher Sam McPhetres, who troubleshoots technical issues for the district, said long-distance service was shut down because the school exceeded its limit for long-distance calls.

School district sources, including superintendent Michael Byer, characterized the calls as a “hacking” by someone outside of the school.

Bruce Messerschmidt of AP&T, however, said late last week it was probably premature to characterize the calls as a hacking. “(The calls) may have come from inside the building. We don’t know,” he said.

He said a series of calls were made at a rapid rate and it wasn’t a case where a person knew a code and exploited it.

AP&T provides the school with local phone service and long distance service through Alaska Communications Systems (ACS).

McPhetres said there are about 30 phones with long-distance service at the school, including in classrooms. He said he doubted the calls were being made from anyone at the school because they appeared to be coming at a rapid rate made by an automated dialer or script.

Also, he said the calls were still being made when AP&T started its investigation of them.

Messerschmidt said he didn’t know where calls originated. “They made it appear they came out of the (school’s) switch. They may have come out of the school’s switch,” but that wouldn’t necessarily mean they came out of the school, he said. “That’s what we’re trying to determine.”

As for a motive, Messerschmidt said, “We’re not sure what they were doing with it. We know they made a bunch of calls…There are people out there with nothing better to do than to mess with other people. There are all kinds of gimmicks out there that people do.”

Whether the school would be liable for the calls – the cost of which could run into thousands of dollars – was unclear at press time. Sometimes long-distance carriers forgive calls fraudulently made on another person’s phone. “It all depends on the carriers involved,” Messerschmidt said.

AP&T changed “permissions” for the system inside the school and resolved the issue in less than a half hour.

McPhetres said he looked at the numbers that had been dialed, and it was only clear they contained code for locations overseas. “We’re all learning what this is. At this point we’re trying to figure out where they came from and why they chose us. Why target a podunk school in a small town? It’s just weird.”

McPhetres said the school has a “Voice Over Internet Protocol” phone system. With such a system, long-distance calls can be made to other locations that have the same system via the Internet without incurring long-distance rates.

Messerschmidt said police hadn’t been called in to investigate the matter as a crime. “There’s nothing they can do,” he said. He said the incident is the first of its kind to occur at an AP&T exchange in Alaska.