How can I tell if my neighbor is stealing phone service from me?
February 16, 2005 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Short version: How can I tell if my neighbor is stealing phone service from me?

Short version of a much, much longer story inside:
posted by pieoverdone to Human Relations (26 answers total)
Response by poster: My neighbor is a psychopath. He's fresh out of prison for manslaughter. He's harassed me repeatedly. There's constant domestic disputes next door. Think COPS. Think wife beater and prison tattoos. Think jobless and carless with anger management issues.

My phone line has been intermittently going dead lately. Living here has been a nightmare so I just chalked it up to being one more thing that's wrong with the place. However, when calling SBC to move service I was told I had long distance charges. I don't call anyone. SBC can't tell me anything except 'the calls are coming from inside the house' and they will not do a line test. I don't have enough charged in long distance and it hasn't been going on long enough for them to warrant it. They did credit my bill, though, so they aren't all that ineffective.

One time I called my house from work to check my messages and someone answered. When I asked who it was I got the neighbor yelling 'who the hell is this?'. Problem is, I can't prove he was in my apartment. All of these calls listed are to St. Charles County and made during times I'm home and I'm not, which leads me to believe that's why my line goes dead. It also leads me to believe that it has somehow been appropriated by the asshat next door.

As much as I would love to hand out the phone numbers he's called (mostly the same 2 or 3 numbers repeatedly) and have some collective mefi annoyance flash mob descend on him, I probably shouldn't.

Where do I go in the house to find out if my line has been spliced? If I find out it has, do I go back to SBC or do I go to the landlord? Can I check the line with one hand and carry a can of mace with the other?
posted by pieoverdone at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2005

Have you considered just getting a cell phone and cancelling your phone service altogether? It might be the path of least resistance.
posted by Arch Stanton at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2005

Your phone line cable will be a cable that starts from a phone panel outside your house and continues in a continuous line through each outlet that you have. Theoretically he could have spliced into it outside the house, after the phone panel. If so, there would be cable that goes along the ground, or underground, to his house, then back to yours. It would be quite an undertaking, although not that technically difficult. Do you know where your phone panel is? Is his house close? Is it an adjacent dwelling, like an apartment? All these things might help figure this out.
posted by xorowo at 1:45 PM on February 16, 2005

You should be able to meter the voltage on the phone line. If you get a meter that does data capture, the phone is off hook if the voltage drops below about 12 volts. On hook it's about 48 volts. If you see it drop when you aren't using it, bam, you can be sure it's being stolen. :-)

If you want to record the service, that's not hard, there's plenty of circuits out there if you want to do it on the cheap ($5 in parts).

A relay attached to the power line (tripped by the voltage of the phone line) of a tape recorder and a simple phone recording circuit would be an effective way to check what is going on. With some amplification, this can be done without it being detectable. With that evidence you should be able to convince anyone of what is happening. BONUS: If you hook a DTMF decoder to the playback of the tape unit you can capture the phone numbers dialed.

As to how it's being done, in older apartments that's dead easy. The phone lines are often screwed down to easy to access terminals in the basement. Look about and see if there's extra stuff attached to yous. If it is, don't fix it yourself. Tell Bell someone has tampered with the lines and they have to be fixed or you'll find the appropriate tariff they're violating and call up the FCC. That will get their attention! :-D

If it isn't physical phone stealing, it *can* be an older portable phone. Many of these did not have security codes and any compatible vendors' phone can make calls on the same unit if tuned to the same frequency (easy).
posted by shepd at 1:46 PM on February 16, 2005

Here's the circuits.
posted by shepd at 1:47 PM on February 16, 2005

Could you call SBC and ask them to remove long-distance calling ability from your line? You could switch to using phone cards instead (but so could he).

Don't do any snooping around yourself. This is something you should address with your landlord - tell her that your phone has been acting funny and that SBC says it's not their equipment.
posted by Coffeemate at 1:48 PM on February 16, 2005

Usually there is a box on the outside of the house that has the phone lines going into it. Many times it is just a matter of opening the box and switching modular jacked phone cord. I would look there first. If he is in the same building it might be harder to find the problem, but trying to physically trace the line from where it comes into the building to get to your place may be an option. Talk to your landlord, or phone company for assistance if needed.
Could also call those numbers and ask if they know said person?

on preview, what others have said... damn fast people
posted by edgeways at 1:51 PM on February 16, 2005

"do I go back to SBC or do I go to the landlord?"

Why not call the cops?
posted by mischief at 2:05 PM on February 16, 2005

I read the FPP, and thought "" archive + line voltage monitoring, but with the personal factors here.. the most I would do is check the voltage. As a bit of a sneak myself, someone digging up your handiwork can be a bit like a glove to the face. He could just apoligize and stop, and he may slink away, but you would be entering into a much more personal competition. If you follow the standard channels, it's the system busting him, not you.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2005

I'm so nervous for you, pieoverdone- please tell me you're in the process of moving?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:06 PM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's also fully possible that the phone company is the one that screwed up. If he just moved in, then he probably just had phone service turned on as well. The wiring connection boxes in old buildings and out on the street (telephone poles or underground) can be a rats nest and easily have wires touching where they shouldn't.
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 2:12 PM on February 16, 2005

Echoing what dirtylittlemonkey said. When we plugged a phone into the phone jack in the basement for the first time, we discovered that it was somehow on the neighbor's line, not ours. It was just a matter of SBC coming out to flip a switch on the main telephone box out on the street.

I have no idea whether said neighbors noticed anything amiss with their line- we got it fixed right away, and never really figured out which house the line belonged to.

That being said, the first paragraph of your description leaves me a bit worried. It may be that the simplest way to solve this problem is by moving out.
posted by ambrosia at 2:21 PM on February 16, 2005

Response by poster: Follow up:

1. No cel phone. I have dsl service on this line.
2. The neighbors do not have a land line. I know this for a fact.
3. It's a 4 family flat ca. 1917
4. They moved in on 12/1 a month after I did
5. SBC charges 15c a minute for long distance if you don't have a long distance carrier. This is whether you ask for it or not.
6. The cops are useless. This is St. Louis. Whenever Officer Friendly shows up for their domestics, his girlfriend tells them everything is ok, and they leave. I confess I would get some serious personal satisfaction for nailing this guy on a parole violation.
7. He could just apoligize and stop, and he may slink away He's more likely to run up and down the stairwell yelling that 'everyone get fucked'. Repeat for 8-12 hours (like last Sunday). Because of this I have a window of about 4:00-5:30am to go in the basement.
8. Yeah, I'm moving. I'll be out the 26th.
posted by pieoverdone at 2:24 PM on February 16, 2005

Cancel service, get a cellphone and carry it with you at all times.

And please do move.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:25 PM on February 16, 2005

Nebbermind. Perhaps VOIP?

I think, then, the best bet is to record the line. I'll bet dollars to donuts you can do this via your modem-in, with auto-start/end, and MP3 it to take up the least space.

Within two months you'll have evidence enough that were you to anonymously mail it to the cops, your neighbour will be taken back to jail. I've no doubt of that!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:27 PM on February 16, 2005

If you are moving out the 26th, why don't you cancel your service now and do without DSL for a couple of weeks? I know, I know, it's nerve-wracking to consider it, but this sounds like an absolute crazy situation you're in and it calls for some crazy measures.

Good luck and godspeed getting out of there, though.
posted by xmutex at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2005

If you live in a neighborhood where the buildings are densely packed ... there is a chance that he may be spliced into an exterior box - not even attached to your building/house.

In recent months there have been numerous instances in which a number of families in my neighborhood (Boston) have had a flurry of calls to 900 numbers (i.e. online betting) made on their lines (and for all intents-and-purposes, supposedly from within their dwellings). In my case 13 calls were made in a matter of minutes (total calls billed: $350).

We figured out - with a little help from the phone company (whose fraud department admitted, "off-the-record", of course, that this is a far more common occurrence than most realize) - that someone had accessed the circuit box (located down a dark side alley) which serves a row of roughly 12 townhouses. The perpetrator(s) likely "hacked in" using a lineman's portable handset (the orange device you usually see dangling from a telephone repairman's utility belt). BTW - the phone company admitted that it is very easy to open these boxes and to "hack into" them.

The various long-distance providers ended up canceling the charges for us in the neighborhood. It may take some doing, however. You may need to ask a service representative to "bump" you up to a supervisor. As well, ask to speak to their "telephone fraud" department. You may need to have SBC initiate a three-way call between you, their fraud department and any third-party long distance carriers on whose networks the long distance calls were made to resolve the issue. Request such - since neither phone company wants to "eat the charges". You may be bounced back-and-forth (like I was) until and unless you request that all three parties work together to resolve the situation.

If you live in a multiple unit dwelling, I'd ask if others have noticed suspicious charges. If you share any common space ā€“ entryway, basement, etc. ā€“ Iā€™d check there to see if a phone box has been tampered with. Better yet, ask that a telephone company reprentative come out to your house to take a look at the situation.

If it's not a hassle, I second the mobile phone idea - or, the block long-distance idea (and using phone cards). At the very least, if you maintain a landline, be sure to call the phone company and have them place a 900-number block on your line.

FYI ... I would ask SBC for an itemized list of all recent calls from your phone - local and long distance. With a little cybersleuthing - i.e. using reverse lookup you may be able to see to whom these suspicious calls were made.
posted by ericb at 2:44 PM on February 16, 2005

on preview - read more about your situation (and other people's apt replies). I second, third ... whatever, the move!
posted by ericb at 2:48 PM on February 16, 2005

I am a lineman for the county...

Ahem. If he's splicing directly into your line, perhaps just leaving your phone off the hook when you are not home will foil him. Not a long term solution, but if you're moving anyway...
posted by astruc at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2005

It is a trivial matter to hook up a standard handset to the modular test jack outside someone's house. I knew people who used to do this to call Southeast Asia. Much simpler than splicing anything.
posted by grouse at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2005

For future reference: I don't know about SBC, but some carriers offer a data-only line for DSL.
posted by glibhamdreck at 3:09 PM on February 16, 2005

shepd: If you read the post carefully, you'll see that he said the phone has been going dead. That may mean that there's a switch installed somewhere, so he's disabling your phone when he makes calls. If that were the case, a volt-meter will tell you when you're disconnected but you won't be able to record the conversations.

That said, I'm not really sure I'd go too far with this. Disconnect your LD, but I mean the guy whent to jail for manslaughter. Unless you're really not afraid of him and his prison buddies I'd try not too fuck with him too much. If you can prove line-tapping, though, your landlord will probably evict him.

Your testimony in a cort of law that you heard his voice on your line would probably be enough to convict him, given his record. (I'm not a lawyer, though)

If you havn't talked to your landlord yet, you should. I mean, you talked to him when you called your own number, he's either splicing or guilty of breaking and entering.
posted by delmoi at 4:51 PM on February 16, 2005

Next time he's freaking out, regardless of if it has anything to do with your phone, call the cops on him. You shouldn't have to live with that.
posted by pwb503 at 4:57 PM on February 16, 2005

Oh yeah, and have you called the police yet, or do you not want them involved for some reason? If he's fresh out of prison, he's probably on probation, so you could violate him and send him back to jail.

You should at least ask them if you have enough for them to do something.
posted by delmoi at 5:01 PM on February 16, 2005

Just don't call from your house in case he is listening.
posted by Mitheral at 6:27 PM on February 16, 2005

Well, delmoi, if the meter goes to 0V, you have another good case to force Bell to inspect the wiring.

That's really the goal. Force the Bell guy to come out and rip out all his hacks. Once that happens I would expect the Bell guy to tell head office that this apartment building is a high crime rate area, and that special equipment needs to be installed to protect the lines.

But, well, that would be smart, and smart + Bell = 0.
posted by shepd at 8:53 AM on February 17, 2005

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