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TUCoPS :: Phreaking General Information :: amxfnsty.txt

An American Express Phone Story

An American Express Phone Story

By: Chester Holmes

Reprinted from 2600 magazine, March 1986


   This story is a memory of hacking a formidable American
institution - American Express.  No, not AX's internal telecommunications
network, but the corporation's toll-free charge card authorization number.
The following can be safely told as our "system" went down a few years ago.

   It all started in the summer of 1982.  I had been on the lookout for
various extenders and other nifty things a phone could link up with.  Most 
were found by scanning and searching 800 number series using the time-honored
"hang-up-if-a-human-answers" technique.  After a long and fruitless afternoon
of such looking, I decided to take a run on down to the local Chinese eatery 
as my stomach's contents had been depleted several hours earlier.  I wasn't 
wont on dining there; take-out would have been fine.  Well, as Murphy would
predict, my fried rice order wasn't ready at the appointed time, so I found
myself at the register with a few moments to kill.  Murphy struck again: on
the register was a sticker with several 800 numbers and the words "American 
Express Charge Authorization" emblazoned theron.

   The MSG in Chinese food affects people in a variety of ways.  Some folks get
rambunctious, but I get sleepy.  I told my associate about this number, and
told him my right index finger was worn down from hours of dialing.  He
understood, and made some discoveries while playing with the system all that

   If I can recall correctly, when one dialed the number (alas, time has erased
the number from my brain's RAM), the merchant would be prompted to enter the
card number, amount, etc., and the computer would give an approval code. A *#
would abort the procedure at any time and disconnect. Merely pressing ## during
the call would get an AX operator.  This was accomplished by the system
obtaining a dial tone and then automatically touch-toning the four-digit 
extension.  We had our fun harassing the operators, for when they hung up, the
dial tone would return, but would not automatically dial!  We were thus free
to make local calls within New York City!  We soon tired of this game, so
instead we developed a method of beating the system's demon dialer.  Upon dial
tone receipt, we quickly touch-toned 9958.  The first 9 would give us an 
outside line, and the 958 was the Automatic Number Identification for New
York.  The four system-generated digits would then come through and be ignored.
 This trick saved us from continual arousal of credit-operator suspicion, and
the dial tone was returned after ANI did her thing.  We also learned how many 
different phone numbers they used for this system.

   You'll note I said we were free to make local calls.  We were able to dial
9-0 to get a Bell operator, who was most happy to assist in placing our
rong-distance calls.  For some reason, however, these operators couldn't help
with 900 calls (I got the same operator three times in one night while trying
to listen to the space shuttle.  We developed a kinship by the last call).  
The AX PBX would give a stern warning if we tried to dial a long distance call
directly ("Class of Service Restriction.  Class of Service Restriction."), but
we soon outsmarted it: it wasn't looking for a 1+NPA etc., but had a timer 
going, and if you dialed more than eight digits (9+, etc.) in a period of
about five seconds, you'd get that mesge.  So we dialed the first few
digits, paused, dialed the remainder, and the call went through (even to the
space shuttle).

   Connections were generally less than optimum (in fact they sucked) but if
you and your called party were in quiet rooms, you could talk for hours. 
Another minor annoyance was crosstalk.  I had often heard the familiar 9958
off in the background, and once I even faintly heard my buddy.  We shouted at
one another for a while until one of us hit *#.

   I don't think AX was ever quite aware of our exploits since it was online
for several months: a new system was installed when their authorization people
moved to Florida.  I had an Amex card all the while, but recently gave it up
when they raised their annual "membership" to $45, and didn't tell me.  It was
them pissing me off like that that prompted me to tell this tale.


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