Telstra is investigating how residential landlines throughout Newcastle have been used to gain unauthorised access to sex and gambling services.
The telco was unable to explain last night how the calls were made, but some customers fear their home phone lines have been hacked or they are the victims of a scam.
The Newcastle Herald spoke to five residents who said they were billed for 1900 calls that they didn’t make. Numbers with a 1900 prefix are typically charged at a premium rate and provide sex, gambling, astrology and competition services. The service providers are often outside Australia.
The number of phone customers involved is not known, but a Merewether resident suggested that dozens of homes in the suburb might be affected.
‘‘I’ve actually heard about three people who were affected since the weekend,’’ he said yesterday.
Most of the calls were charged at a flat rate of $13.97 and were made in the early hours of the morning.
In at least two of the cases, Telstra has accepted the customer did not make the calls and has agreed to waive the charges.
The majority of those clients affected appear to be from Merewether, with home numbers starting with 4963.
‘‘There were four calls all to the same number,’’ another Merewether resident, Pat Henry, said.
‘‘I rang Telstra and the woman I spoke to said there was obviously some sort of scam going on. They are now monitoring our number.’’
Telstra Hunter Area general manager Chris Cusack said he had spoken with only one of the affected customers to date.
‘‘We will certainly investigate every one of these and try and get to the bottom of what’s happened,’’ he said. ‘‘You can’t rule anything out, but I would be staggered if it’s hacking. I can’t recall the last time I saw something of that nature.’’
‘‘We’ve had examples of phone systems where people have got access to them, but that’s not the case with an individual phone line.’’
Mr Cusack said customers who received a bill listing calls they believed they did not make should first try to contact the service provider.
If that was not possible, they should contact Telstra on 132200 and a complaint process would begin.
The telco was unable to explain how the calls were made, but it said they were unlikely to have been the result of a widespread or organised hacking operation.
Mr Cusack said customers should be extra careful about giving details, such as phone numbers, to third parties.
‘‘When we have investigated these things on mobile phones we found that it began when people provided their details to what they thought was a legitimate competition,’’ he said.
The Australian Federal Police and the Australian Communications and Media Authority both said the circumstances of the case were unusual and they would watch the outcome with interest.