Text hoax headache for Number 10
LONDON, England -- The heart of British government -- 10 Downing Street -- has been swamped by phone calls after a text message prank.
Messages were sent to thousands of mobile phone users urging them to "ring Tony on this number."
The amount of calls to Number 10 so threatened to disrupt Prime Minister Tony Blair's daily business that a new number has been set up for officials and regular callers.
The hoax messages say it is urgent for the recipient to call the number given and use phrases like "ring Tony on this number."
The messages do not reveal that callers will be put through to the British PM's office.
Last week the calls accounted for 80 percent of calls to the Downing Street switchboard, which already deals with thousands of genuine calls a day, the Press Association reported.
A recorded message has now been left on the No. 10 line which says: "Hello. This is the Downing Street switchboard. You are receiving this recorded message because of hoax messages in circulation asking the recipient to call this number urgently. If you do not have a reason to call Downing Street, please hang up now."
Similar hoaxes have been traditional for years in Britain.
Typically a caller will be told to ring "Mr C. Lyon" and given a number which is a local zoo numbering sea lions among its exhibits.
Variations on the prank phone call are also a regular feature in "The Simpsons" where Bart will phone barman Moe asking if he has a customer with a name such as Al Cholic.
But technology has made the old-tech hoax much more of a new-tech headache.
Number 10 security officials say they believe the fake messages are being sent by a method which allows thousands to be transmitted to mobile phones simultaneously.
The UK Labour Party used a similar system itself during the last General Election, texting voters to ask them to support the Government.
After a new line was set up for private callers, a Number 10 spokeswoman told PA: "The increase in calls has put enormous pressure on our small team of switchboard operators who have a very difficult and responsible job to do.
"We had to take action to protect them."
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