DirecTV warns local customers to be weary |

DirecTV warns local customers to be weary


Operators of DirecTV satellite television service are warning local customers not to accept unsolicited service calls at their homes.

Concerns about recent thefts of access cards that descramble satellite signals in home satellite units has prompted the company to ask people not to let technicians in and, if the customers experience technical problems, to call DirecTV at 1(800) 830-6090.

The problems may be the fault of an illegally altered home unit, or the rare case of legitimate customers affected by satellite fraud countermeasures.

Satellite signals, or “kill packages” as they are referred to by the company, are regularly sent out to incapacitate access cards that are illegitimately made. The cards, which are altered by computer hackers, allow home units to accept signals for channels that are not part of a subscription package.

Larry Rissler, a former FBI agent in charge of DirecTV’s signal integrity department, said the satellite pirates often subscribe to minimum service packages while their cards accept signals for premium channels. In an effort to stop the piracy, the company employs electronic countermeasures that deactivate hacker’s access cards.

“Service can be $19 to $85 dollars a month depending on what you choose,” Rissler said. “A hacked card can be worth $300.” The difference between basic service and premium service can cost the company hundreds of dollars in revenue a year.

Increased thefts are a response to an effort by satellite operators to switch over to newer, more secure cards. New home units have the third-generation cards, which are swapped when second-generation cards are contaminated by fraud-detecting signals. Service for legitimate customers should remain unaffected.

Officials at the company are quick to point out they are not running a factory authorized card-swapping operation and that technicians claiming to be part of such an operation might be misrepresenting themselves to acquire old cards.

Gene Erskine, owner of House of Drake, a local servicing agent of DirecTV, said over the past week, his company has called on several customers whose service has been affected by the countermeasures.

“I have turned over five cards for legitimate customers that were turned off,” he said.

“The period two cards and the period three cards work the same way except for the way they can be altered,” Rissler said. He said the company is leery about releasing information about how hackers reprogram the cards.

Robert Mercer, a senior public relations manager for DirecTV, said the company pursues violators with a vengeance. “When we do find people in violation we go after them civilly and we go after them criminally.”

The availability of hacked cards throughout the World Wide Web has been a thorn in the side of the satellite television industry for several years, Mercer said. Hundred of sites feature access to unlimited free satellite television through the altered cards. The sale is banned under the Federal Communications Act.