Industry News

US Emergency Phone Networks Fall Victim to Extortion Con

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI issued a warning to public-safety call centers about numerous attacks against public emergency communications networks in US in a new extortion scam. 

The attack, called telephony denial of service (TDoS), overwhelms emergency phone lines with automatically generated calls aimed at crushing the networks and blocking legitimate incoming and outgoing calls.

“Dozens of such attacks have targeted the administrative PSAP [public safety answering point] lines (not the 911 emergency line),” according to the alert, published by security blogger Brian Krebs. “These attacks are ongoing. Many similar attacks have occurred targeting various businesses and public entities, including the financial sector and other public emergency operations interests, including air ambulance, ambulance and hospital communications.”

These attacks are part of an extortion scheme that starts with crooks contacting victims by phone. The perpetrators, impersonating collections representatives, ask the victim to pay for an alleged debt of up to $5,000. When they fail to get the money, they launch the TDoS attack. In some situations, crooks use a spoofed police department telephone number to hide their identity and make their warrant look legit.

Victims should not give in to the blackmail and never pay crooks, but report the incident to the FBI via the official Internet Crime Complaint Center IC3 and provide as many details as possible, including:

-          call logs from “collection” calls and TDoS

-          time, date, originating phone numbers, traffic characteristics

-          call back number to the “collections” company or requesting organization

-          method of payment or account number where “collection” company requests debt to be paid

-          any other information about the caller

About the author


A blend of teacher and technical journalist with a pinch of e-threat analysis, Loredana Botezatu writes mostly about malware and spam. She believes that most errors happen between the keyboard and the chair. Loredana has been writing about the IT world and e-security for well over five years and has made a personal goal out of educating computer users about the ins and outs of the cybercrime ecosystem.