Underwear, beer and fraud

Underwear, beer and fraud

Published: March 14th, 2004

Do you remember the days when Ma Bell would charge $1.00 per minute to call Vancouver from Toronto? I do and it was about that time I encountered an unforgettable character in the Information Technology department.

I was working as the Telecommunications Manager for a major utility with headquarters in North York, Ontario. This utility had over 30 offices scattered throughout Ontario and its long distance bill was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Financial reports showed that the highest user of long distance services was the Head Office. Senior management recognized that controls on long distance usage were non-existent. Long distance bills were given a cursory examination, coded to an administrative cost centre and cost type and paid. There was no allocation or charge back to individual departments since there was no way of knowing who made what calls.

We were aware of Call Detail Recording (CDR) technology that would allow tracking of calls by originating extension. We decided to implement CDR at the seven offices in Ontario that accounted for over 80% of the long distance calling costs. The Head Office was chosen to be the first location to have this equipment and software installed since it had the highest proportion of costs.

The vendor of this technology informed us that the CDR recording devices or call storage units (CSU’s) came in different sizes and that we would have to pick the appropriate size based on an estimate of the number of calls that we expected and the frequency at which we would poll the CSU and download the CDR records to a centralized PC that ran the costing software.

We decided that the simplest way to determine the volume of long distance calls for the head office was to examine the long distance bills for several months and to manually count the number of long distance calls. I assigned the task to one of the departmental secretaries, Rosie.

Rosie faithfully went through a small mountain of Bell invoices compiling statistics on the number of calls placed from the head office for each month of the study. However, Rosie had an inquisitive mind and was not satisfied to simply tally the number of calls. Soon after starting the project she pointed out to me that some of the calls were unusually long in length – the longest was over 200 minutes. We knew that an average business call was about 3 to 4 minutes and that occasionally a call would stretch to an hour if a conference all were under way but over 200 minutes in duration – something was awry.

We started an investigation to learn more about the mysterious calls. We soon learned that the calls were being made to a number in North Bay. That in itself was not unusual since this utility had a large operational office in North Bay plus thousands of customers in that city. Although we did not have any tracking software for long distance calls we were able to quickly find where the calls originated since they all came from a private telephone line in the computer room. Further, all the calls were placed on the weekend or evening shifts. We checked the computer room schedule and found that it was the same computer operator who was on duty during the time of these calls. A few discrete inquiries also revealed that he was having an affair with a female employee in the North Bay office.

Reckless Robbie (name changed to protect the guilty) was the computer operator on duty during this time. Further checking of his payroll records showed that on several shifts when the calls in question were made that he had submitted overtime requests since he was unable to finish his scheduled work! Senior management in the department confronted Reckless with the combination of telephone bills and work schedules. He was unable to deny the facts put before him.

What I did not know was that Reckless had a history of less than perfect behavior during his tenure with the I.T. department. Once, someone found that he had been hiding beer beneath the raised flooring in the computer room so that it would be appropriately chilled for his work breaks. On another occasion some of the female employees screamed when they found Reckless, clad only in his skivvies, asleep in the ladies lounge when they came to work one morning. Apparently a former girl friend had kicked him out of the apartment that they were sharing and he decided to make the ladies lounge his temporary home.

Given his checkered history and then the fraudulent use of long distance, management decided it was time to part company with Reckless. He was dismissed and given his final pay cheque – minus a few hundred dollars for the calls he had placed to his girl friend in North Bay. The CDR project proceeded as planned and no more colourful characters were uncovered!

Keith Roberts, Scarborough, Ont.