US 5574781 Translation indicator for database-queried communications services

ABSTRACT – A communications system is arranged to route a database-queried call (900-number or 800-number call) to a subscriber (pay-per-call sponsor or 800-number customer), and to deliver to the subscriber information identifying the call as a database-queried call, as opposed to a switched-line or POTS call.

TECHNICAL FIELD

This invention relates to voice and data communications and, more particulary, to a system for preventing fraud for database-queried communications services.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Communications carries provide database-queried communications services to their subscribers by using database management information system techniques to implement special call pressing functions. Those functions include billing and call routing services which allow a subscriber to concentrate on providing the actual information content for the database-queried communications services offered. One example of such communications services is 800-number service, also known as “freephone service”, in which communications carriers translate 800-numbers numbers dialed by callers to switched-line numbers to which the calls are routed. The communication carriers also bill 800-number subscribers for all 800-number calls placed by callers. Another well-known example of database-queried communications service is 900-number service, in which communications carriers, acting as billing agents for the 900-number subscribers (hereinafter called “sponsors”), bill callers for both the 900-number calls placed by those callers and the underlying information services received with those calls.

Traditionally, 800-number subscribers and 900-number sponsors have been primarily medium-and large-scale services providers who use leased lines and specialized communications equipment (such as PBX switches and automated audio response units) at their presses to receive calls from their customers. In the case of 900-number services (also known as “pay-per-call” services), those companies offer information serices ranging from stock quotes to sports scores. Those information services are provided by either operators at the sponsors’ locations answering callers questions or by the automated audio response units which deliver recorded messages to callers in response to prompts entered by the callers to select desired information services.

A recent trend– one that is likely to continue– in the pay-per-call market is for trained professlongs to use pay-per-call services to provide to callers one-on-one consultation services and advice on a wide range of matters, such as health, law, insurance, and help desk service for widely used software programs to name a few. Those sponsors are typically small-scale enterprises that use simple telephone sets or keysets and individual switched lines from Local Exchange Carders (LECs). Analog switched services are sometimes called Plain Old Telephone Service or POTS for short. Typically, the communications carrier translates the pay-per-call number dialed by the caller to the switched line number to which the call is directed.

Pay-per-call services in general, and switched-line-based termination for 900-number service, in particular raise some serious security concerns. Because sponsors have no way of knowing whether incoming calls were placed via 900 numbers or were placed directly to the terminating switched line numbers, sponsors are vulnerable to theft of service by callers who simply learn and dial the switched line number to which the 900 numbers are translated. For future 900-number based services, such as video services and electronic payment systems, theft of those services is likely to cause great economic harm to the sponsors.

Equally significant is the fact that some 800-number service subscribers can also benefit from knowing whether a call is an 800-number call or a POTS call. For example, an 800number subscriber who has one or more switched line numbers to which 800-number calls are directed, may wish to provide different call treatment to 800-number callers than is offered to POTS callers. Unfortunately, the 800-number subscriber cannot differentiate 800-number callers from POTS callers.

Thus, a problem of the prior art is lack of a) an indicator to differentiate database-queried communications services from other communications services, and b) lack of fraud prevention mechanisms for 900-number service.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is directed to a system which routes a database-queried call (900-number or 800-number call) to a subscriber (pay-per-call sponsor or 800-number customer), and delivers to the subscriber information identifying the call as a database-queried call, as opposed to a switched-line or POTS call.

In an embodiment of the principles of the invention, when a communications carrier translates an 800-number or 900-number dialed by a caller to a switched-line or POTS number, the carrier inserts in the calling party number field translation indicator data that is passed to the subscriber. The translation indicator data may be one or more digits forming a code indicating to the sponsor that the call is indeed an 800- or 900-number call. When the switched line serving the receiving telephone set is a POTS line, the translation indicator data may be passed in-band (e.g. between the first and second ring) for display on a monitor, such as the AT&T Call Display 25. Alternatively, the translation indicator data may be delivered as an audible signal to the telephone set for which the call is destined.

In another embodiment of the invention, the translation indicator data is cryptographically authenticated and delivered to the subscriber as part of user information data routed via a signaling channel of the digital switched line serving the subscriber. For example, the authenticated translation indicator data may be a binary representation of the time and date of the call and the calling party number. Upon receiving the translation indicator data, private-key cryptographic techniques are used by the sponsor to authenticate the translation indicator data. Alternatively, public-key signatures may be used to sign and authenticate the translation indicator data.

At a more general level, the present invention allows a subscriber of a communications service to provide that service to a user only if the subscriber receives specific information indicating that the address selected by the user to request the service is different from the address at which the request was received by the subscriber.

 

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