Coin Phone Fraud From "The Phone Book," by J. Edward Hyde Thanks: Damm, BIOC Agent 003 Hello: Liquid Jesus, Ferret A special Hello to: All Potato Militiamen Everywhere One of the easiest marks for phone criminals to hit are coin operated telephones. Seldom protected, easily accessible, and without alarms to prevent illegal access, coin telephones are knocked over with unbelievable frequency. There is only one problem encountered in robbing coin phones: What do you do with all that change? This small problem often enables the police to apprehend coin felons quickly. When three men strode into a Denver bank and asked to convert change into bills, the teller was not ready for the deluge of coins that followed. It took four hours to count the $6,000 in nickles, dimes, and quarters, but the men who brought it in didn't collect a single dollar bill. The bank, alerted to a recent string of phone robberies, called the law and announced that three men were in the bank with an extraordinary number of coins. The police arrived before the teller had counted the first thousand and took the men into custody. Most robberies are not conducted on such a scale, however. Usually, coin robberies are petty-cash operations. For the phones most often robbed are those in out-of-the-way places, and phones in out-of-the-way places seldom draw much buisness. Also, the racket created in a robbery is bound to draw attention to the act. Even if the robber is armed with the special tools needed (bolt splitters, needle bars, etc.), unnatural activity can be noted by passers-by if the phone is in the open, and if it's in a booth, the working space is quite small. For these reasons, coin robbers generally take the phone with them if at all possible so that they can pry into it in relative privacy. Depending on local booth construction practices, this can be hazardous: One carload of Chicago coin thieves was apprehended as they drove down the street dragging a phone booth behind their car. In an episode right out of the movie American Graffiti, two would-be thieves attached one end of a stout chain to a coin phone and the other end to their car. They sped off with the intention of taking the phone with them, but they had no idea how well the phone was anchored. Upon reaching the end of the chain, the drive shaft of their vehicle parted company with the rest of their car. The phone remained firmly in place, and the men took the license plates to the car and walked off. When determined robbers in New York found the phone bolted to the wall of a Laundromat, they decided it would be easier to take out a section of the wall than to detach the phone itself. In spite of the problems, taking the phone offers a much higher margin of success than trying to get the money out of a phone in place. At least in Detroit it does. After ecologists cleaned out a municipal pond, they found 168 coin phones amid the sodden debris. All of them had been rifled. Coin phone fraud is another, much easier, way of finding your fortune (or winding up in jail) than abusing the little steel box. Poor cousins of the toll-fraud machines known as blue and mute boxes are the fuzz boxes. These devices duplicate the tones of money dropped down the coin chute as heard by the operator or electronic equipment. If the device is sophisticated enough, there is virtually no chance of being caught unless security personnel physically catch the perpetrator in the act. And since no records are kept on individual calls made from coin phones, both the caller and the called party are safe. At some colleges, airports, and other places where coin phones line the walls, phreaks have been known to place their call on one phone and deposit the required change in the one adjoining it. The sound of coins tinkling down a coin chute is identical on all coin phones in the same area, and so the operator or electrical equipment was decieived into thinking that the money had been deposited into the phone being used. Once the operator allowed the call to go through, the phreak depressed the coin return lever on the phone with the money, finished his call, and walked away. The only means by which the Company could circumvent such activity was to either shorten the receiver cords so that they couldn't reach the phones on either side, or to place the phones far enough apart so as to make such activity impossible. It has become a game of sorts. The company develops a coin phone that cannot be "worked," and then the phreaks try to overcome that obstacle. The company thought it had a fool-proof instrument in the mercury-drop phone. A mercury-drop phone works on the same principle as the thermostat. The coins trip a lever filled with mercury, and the lever completes the connection. The phreaks got around this by using slugs, an old favorite, or by physically tilting the phone one way or another. A mercury-drop phone installed in one fraternity house was later found by a repairman to swing freely in a complete circle. The frats had removed all but one bolt located almost exactly at the phone's center of gravity. Another, more sinister activity of coin phone devotees does not involve the phone itself, but rather the trucks used to haul away the loot. Collection trucks are extremely attractive targets. They carry large sums of money, are seldom protected, and are almost never defended. In fact, the company goes to great legths to impress upon it's collectors the folly of defending the truck if a robbery takes place. It is a sensible philosophy. Seven out of eight phone collection truck robbers are caught within 48 hours because of the aforementioned problem of getting rid of all that change. It makes no sense to risk one's life for something the company has plenty of and can always get more of. The reason the robbers of coin collection trucks are so quickly caught should be obvious. If $6,000 dollars worth of nickles, dimes, and quarters is a lot of change, then $60,000 worth is ten times as much of a problem. The company is not using trucks for collection because it's fashionable. Trucks are the only vehicle that can handle the sheer weight of the money, let alone the volume. Ok, that's the end of that little tidbit. Just as an afterthought, I once read that in colder climates, phreaks have been known to seal the coin return slot of a pay phone with duct tape, stick a hose against the coin slot, and when the phone is full, tape up the coin slot. Overnight, the cold temperatures freeze the water, cracking the pay phone open. Something tells me that this is a little far fetched, but theoretically, if you could provide a watertight seal around all orifices of the phone, it would work. If anyone manages this, please, let me know.