Modem hijacking is an Internet scam in which customers are enticed to click on ads to access Internet content for "free." The site may also say "no credit card is needed" to access content. After the customer clicks "I agree," the site then prompts the user to download a "viewer or "dialer" program.
How modem hijacking works
Once the program is downloaded to the user's computer, it reprograms the computer's modem to disconnect the user from the Internet and reconnect using another phone number, often an international number. Some software causes the modem to make international calls when the customer is unaware that calls are being made.
Since many of these sites do not require a credit card in order to access content, children can click into them without their parents' knowledge or permission.
Preventing modem hijacking
There are some things you can do to minimize your chances of modem hijacking and finding surprise charges on your phone bill:
Related Customer Rights and Safety topics
- Consider a dedicated phone line for the computer and restrict it to local calls.
- Delete any dialer programs that have been downloaded onto your computer.
- Read online disclosures carefully. They may be buried several clicks away in pages of small print. In addition, read the language in the typically gray boxes presented for acceptance. Do not click on "OK" unless you know exactly what you are agreeing to.
- Disconnect any phone lines from your computer that you no longer need. If in the past you used a modem to dial into the Internet and you now have a high-speed Internet or cable connection, disconnect the phone line from the computer. You do not need it to access the Internet through your phone line if you have broadband. Leaving the phone line plugged in could leave you vulnerable to a dialer program problem.
- Install firewall software. Firewall software is designed to block hackers from accessing your computer.
- Talk to your children. Explain that they could be targets of the "modem hijacking" scam and tell them the consequences of downloading "viewer" or "dialer" programs on the computer.
- Monitor your children's Internet use. Keep track of the Web sites your children visit by checking the Web browser history files and cache.
- Be skeptical when browsing the Web, especially when seeing claims for "free" services or "no credit card needed".
- Contact your local exchange carrier to inquire about international call blocking options.