February 24, 2005, 12:00 AM

Do you know where your web site’s toll-free calls are going?

Call center provider The AnswerNet Network finds a scammer redirected calls to the toll-free number on its corporate web site in an apparent attempt to lift sales leads. It’s a potential issue for any Internet business, says CEO Gary Pudles.

Is the toll-free number on your web site really pointed at your company? That’s not always the case, as web-enabled call center provider The AnswerNet Network found over the weekend. On Monday, the company found that on Sunday, someone had called its phone service provider, represented he was from the company, and asked the phone provider to redirect calls to the company’s own 800 number listed on its corporate web site to a different number. There, the phone was answered with a derivative of the actual corporate name.

“Leads that were meant for our company were then going there,” says CEO Gary Pudles, who is pursuing a police investigation. “What we think this person was doing was sending calls meant for us to other sales people, so they could then try to sell those accounts.” Pudles says he’s determined that fewer than 10 calls intended for The AnswerNet Network were diverted before the problem was discovered.

While dedicated long-distance service transmits calls over a dedicated circuit, switched service, another model used by long-distance phone service providers, routinely points calls directed at a listed toll-free number to a different, local number on the back end. Pudles says no password or code had been established with the phone service provider to verify the authenticity of requests to redirect the number. “Most phone service providers will do that if you ask, but it’s not generally something they suggest to you,” he says.

Pudles found he’s not the only company thus targeted. Posting news of the incident to the lists of several professional organizations to which he belongs, “We’ve received responses from others who have been hit,” he says.

Though this incident involves the attempted theft of professional service leads for a call center company, Pudles says it could be an issue in any business that has a web site and phone channels, including retail. “What if customers who were placing a phone order at Staples off the web site number were actually rerouted to one of the hundreds of small office products resellers instead? This could potentially be a problem in any vertical market,” he says.

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