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Teen-Age Computer Hackers May Have Run Up $650,000 In Phone Bills

October 6, 1988

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Ten teen-age hackers may have run up $650,000 in telephone calls by tricking phone company computers, and their parents could be liable for the tab, authorities said.

″They reached out all right,″ Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Mayer said of the nine 14-year-old and one 17-year-old hackers. ″They reached out and touched the world.″

Tom Spurlock, resident agent-in-charge of the Las Vegas Secret Service office, said the teen-agers engaged in ″blue boxing,″ a technique that enabled them to talk to fellow hackers throughout Europe.

″It’s very popular, very accessible. It’s definitely going on other places as well,″ Spurlock said Wednesday.

″They were calling numbers that were in the AT&T system, and their (computer) programs would allow them to ‘jump’ AT&T’s circuits, allowing them to call anywhere in the world.″

The expensive shenanigans came to light when local phone company officials discovered unusual activity on nine Las Vegas phone lines, Spurlock said. He said federal agents obtained warrants and searched the nine homes.

The teen-agers were not taken into custody or charged, but their computers were seized.

″They were pretty shook up when we visited them,″ Spurlock said.

Spurlock said the parents, who could be held liable for the expensive phone conversations, were unaware of what was happening.

″One of the parents told us, ’I thought he was being a good boy because he was always working with his computer and talking to his friends on the phone,‴ Spurlock said.

He said the number of calls and the destinations were still being tabulated, but the $650,000 in calls was ″a good estimate.″

Spurlock said the teen-agers had been using the system 13 months and that each had amassed monthly bills of $5,000.

Spurlock said it will be up to AT&T to decide whether to seek reimbursement once a final tally is obtained.

Mayer said the case probably would be left to local authorities to decide whether to prosecute.

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