I get a lot of email from people asking me basic red boxing questions, most of which have already
been covered in PLA's old red boxing issue which I originally wrote in 1992. I searched all over the web for a decent red boxing page and could only find a few out-of-date text files. So I'm making
this page for people to who ask me questions. Rather than tell people to go to hell and figure it out themselves I can just send them here. If you find any inacurracies or feel I've left something out, tell me. If you have anything to contribute towards this page, post your thoughts on the bottom of this page. If you have a picture of a red box you've made or anything else you don't see on this page, send it to us and we'll consider using it here. This page was last updated in January 2006.
Whenever you make a call from a pay phone, you deposit coins and the pay phone checks the coins to make sure they're not bogus, then emits a few tones
that tells the phone company how much money you've deposited. When you deposit a quarter, the phone will create 5 quick chirps. A dime will make 2 chirps and a nickel will make one.
A "red box" immitates these chirping tones, bypassing the coin authorization doo-dad which causes the pay phone to place your call, whether it be
local, long distance or international, for free. Most red boxes are very easy to make and come in just about any size, even as small as a pack of Big Red gum. They were named "red boxes" because
supposedly the first one ever confiscated (back in the 70's) was red.
You betcha. In fact a member of the 2600 Magazine staff spent some time behind bars simply for posessing a red box.
If you're going to actually try to build a red box then you're attempting to break the law. Once you place that first phone call you've broken the law and you'll probably go to hell too. Don't give
me any of this, "Oh, well I'm not really stealing because the lines are just sitting there and Ma Bell doesn't lose any money from it!" crap. If you're going to build a red box and break the law then
at least be man enough to admit that YOU ARE STEALING. Here's a quote from the old red boxing FAQ who was quoting federal law:
* Title 18 of the United States Code section 1029 states that standard phreaking devices, such as blue boxes, used to steal phone service from [...] switches, are unquestionably "counterfeit access devices." It is not only illegal to use counterfeit access devices, but it is even illegal to build them. "Producing," "designing," "duplicating," or "assembling" [...] boxes are all federal crimes today, and if you do this, the Secret Service has been charged by Congress to come after you. *(9)
Basically, you have no legal rights to own a red box. If you are caught with possession of a red box, you could be arrested on the spot whether or not you actually used it. There is only one thing that can be said about Red Boxing due to this code... don't get caught. There will be no excuse you can give for possessing a red box. Think of it as the same as possessing illegal narcotics.
Right now (October 2003), that's a hard question to answer. Back in mid-2002, AT&T issued a press release telling the world that they were going to stop accepting coins for long distance calls. Apparently, this means that red boxing is completely dead as far as long distance calling goes. Many phreaks are claiming that you can still box local calls or even in-state long distance calls. But it seems a little pointless to box local calls.
In January of 2003, RBCP wrote an update on the death of red boxing. And a lot
of people are hearing "Effective soon, this phone will no longer accept coins for AT&T long distance calls. You may wish to begin using a prepaid calling card as a substitute." whenever they try and make coin calls today. There are still reports of red boxing working in
some areas but it's hard to confirm this. Maybe it still works in Canada, who knows. It's best just to try it and see if you can do it. If it doesn't work, don't give up. Try it again at a different
Face it, the death of pay phones is getting close since everyone in the world owns a cell phone now. Collecting the quarters out of public phones costs the phone company lots of money, especially when people aren't using pay phones that often anymore. Prepaid phone cards are cheap, so why should the phone company even bother to accept coins anymore? If red boxing isn't dead by the time you read this, then it probably will be soon. If you decide to try red boxing, just remember that it's unlikely to last much longer. And if it stops working, we've got a few ideas on other uses for your red box. Click here to view them.
To tell the truth, it's unlikely that you're going to get caught. And if you are stopped by the law, it's unlikely that they're going to even
understand what a red box is or what you're doing unless he happens to have a phone company technician with him to explain it all. That's not to say that there aren't risks, I just don't hear of
people ever getting busted for red boxing except in the highly publicized 2600 Magazine case.
A few years back (in 1997 or so) several people contacted me, telling me that they have been busted for red boxing. In every case, they were dealing with a live operator when it happened. An unmarked truck would pull up to the pay phone and detain the red boxer until the police arrived. They didn't carry firearms, so we're assuming these guys rank right up there with mall security guards. These cases also occured on or near college campuses which have always been a popular place for red boxing. Since about 1997/1998 I haven't heard from anyone else claiming to have been busted for red boxing.
Since this has only happened (to my knowledge) after talking to a live operator, you should probably try to avoid live operators at all costs. If you get one, hang up and go to another phone, far far away. Don't box local calls if you have to use a live operator. Most pay phones use an automated system to collect your coins (or tones) and live operators only materialize when the phone company's computers have a problem recognizing your "coins".
I've only heard about this happening in different Bell terrtories but never in GTE. So they might be safe, who knows. Other than that, I've never run into any problems red boxing. I've personally red boxed from the exact same phone every single night for over six months. Theoretically Bell will notice that a certain phone is coming up short on cash and can then check the records and see that someone spent 942 minutes on a long distance call and that amount was never found in the phone. I've never had a friend get charged or be contacted by Bell, though, so that's probably a dumb theory.
Red boxing is best for regular long distance domestic calls within the United States. It works best when you're in one state and calling to another state. You can also make local calls but this usually involves talking to a live operator rather than an automated system so this isn't a good idea. You can even call internationally (which also requires talking to a live operator) but you'll have to "deposit" sometimes over $10.00 in red box tones and then several more dollars every few minutes so really international calling is more trouble than it's worth.
You can not call any of those 900 phone sex numbers, so those of you with high hopes of free 24 hour phone sex - sorry to disappoint you. You also can't call those 0-700 numbers that are sometimes used for alliance teleconferencing. You can call 976 information lines, though and you can call Canadian and Caribbean
Want to use your red box to place calls from home? Well too bad because it won't work! Unless you're Mike Brady and have a pay phone installed in your living room (heh, remember that episode?) you won't be able to red box calls from home. Red boxing only works from a pay phone line which are only attached to pay phones.
Red boxes come in all different shapes and sizes. Anything that can store sound clips on it is a potential red box. Here are just a few of the
different kinds of red boxes that you can build yourself:
Tone Dialer Red Box: This is the device that originally gave rebirth to the red boxing craze in the early 90's and is still popular today. It happened when a hacker figured out that an ordinary tone dialer from Radio Shack could be easily converted into a red box. The tone dialer was small (about the size of a pack of cigarettes) and produced perfectly clear coin tones, making it a favorite of phone phreaks everywhere.
The only catch is that you've got to learn how to solder to make this box and you have to find a certain electronic component, called a 6.5536 MHz crystal, to stick in it. You can use the 3 memory buttons on the top of the unit as your coin buttons and label them "25" "10" and "5" cents just so it looks cool. Click on the picture of the tone dialer to view detailed instructions on building one.
Tape Recorders & Walkmans: If you don't want to take the time to make a red box out of a tone dialer, then you can always record a few dollars of change onto a tape recorder and play it back later through your walkman (very innocent-looking to the casual observer) or even through a boom box or your car stereo. You can also burn the tones onto a CDR and play them from your portable CD player.
Hallmark Cards: Hallmark was the first to introduce us to greeting cards that you could record a personalized message onto so when the recipient opened the card they would hear your voice. The device that recorded your voice was very small and became the new fad in portable red boxing. Unfortunately Hallmark doesn't sell these cards anymore but today there are many new alternatives.
Toys & Other Voice Recorders: Like I said before, any device that can record sound is a potential red box. Your PC's sound card, talking picture frames, Yak Baks, portable mp3 players, keychains, even those ink pens that can record your voice will work. Your only limit is your imagination.
For those who really care, here are the actual frequencies that a pay phone produces when you put in money:
In the United States, a "tone" is 1700 hz and 2200 hz mixed together.
A nickel is 66 ms on (1 beep).
A dime is 66ms on, 66ms off, 66ms on (2 beeps).
A quarter is 33ms on, 33ms off repeated 5 times.
When you make a red box out of a Radio Shack tone dialer, the timing is slowed slighty on the quarter tone but it's not slowed enough for the phone company's system to notice. Some operators (very few, though) can tell the difference between a red box and real coins.
If you're in Canada, the tone dialer red box and the tones above will not work on Canadian phones since the tones are completely different. Here are the tones produced on Canadian phones:
A nickel is 2200hz, 0.06s on,
A dime is 2200hz, 0.06s on, 0.06s off, 0.06s on, 0.06s off (2 beeps).
A quarter is 2200hz 33ms on, 33ms off repeated 5 times.
Below are links to a few different kinds of red box sound files. Canadian red box tones are slightly different sounding than American red box tones so I'll also include a Canadian tone so you can compare the sounds.
10 cents - real pay phone tone
5 cents - real pay phone tone
25 cents - produced by a RS tone dialer
25 cents - Canadian red box tone
Flash program with all 3 American tones in it
Now I'll attempt to explain everything you need to know to make a call with your new red box. I'll also go over a few troubleshooting tips that you might encounter while trying to red box.
This shouldn't be too hard - finding the pay phone you'll use to red box from. You can't use just any pay phone, you have to use a Bell or GTE phone. How do you know if it's a Bell or GTE phone? Well, it'll have a Bell or GTE symbol on it. Duh. Look at the instruction card on the top of the phone for the name of your local phone company such as Southwestern Bell, Bell Atlantic, Pacific Bell, Verizon, Ameritech, whatever. If you can't find their logo on the pay phone or on the phone booth, then most likely you're not dealing with a phone company pay phone.
These "generic" phones are referred to as "cocots" and will not work for red boxing. You generally find cocots in front of cheap convenience stores and supermarkets. They charge outrageous local and long distance rates, then usually split the profits with the store owner. The best thing to do when you come across one of these phones is to squirt packet of ketchup into the coin slot and go find a Bell or GTE phone.
In the early 90's Bell & GTE started muting the mouth pieces of their pay phones so that their phones wouldn't be able to hear red box tones. So occasionally you'll come across a Bell/GTE phone that won't work with your red box. These kind of phones are becoming more and more common these days but don't be discouraged and give up. If you try enough phones you'll eventually learn which ones work and which ones don't. Sometimes there are ways around muted mouth pieces, but not always. We'll discuss ways around protected phones later.
One way to find out if the phone is muted before you even attempt your phone call. Pick up the phone and hit a few numbers to get rid of the dial tone. Now blow into the mouthpiece to see if you can hear yourself in the earpiece. If you can hear yourself blowing (doesn't that turn you on??) then most likely that phone will work for red boxing because the mouthpiece isn't muted. MAKING A LONG DISTANCE CALL:
Okay, here's the fun part - Calling anywhere in the entire world and not paying a cent for it. Pick up the phone and dial the number you want to call in the fashion 1-AREA CODE-NUMBER. For example, if you want to call the White House in Washington D.C., dial 1-202-456-1414. But let's start with something a little simpler - pick up your phone and dial 1-618-465-4545. This is the time & temperature number in Alton, Illinois.
You'll hear a click, then a computer voice will say, "Please deposit $3.15" (The exact amount differs with the location and time of day.) Mutter, "Fuck you, AT&T..." to yourself, switch on your red box, hold the speaker of the red boxup to the mouthpiece on the pay phone and start your coins. If you're using a tone dialer red box, hold the red box flush against the mouth piece while inserting your quarters. If you're using a tape recorder or other recording device, you'll have to experiment with the volume to make sure your "quarters" aren't distorted.
Pause for a split second in between each quarter because if you go too fast, you'll get a live operator wanting to know what the problem is. You are able to go 20 cents over the amount requested and that will be credited to your call and taken off the next time the recording comes on and asks you for money. No, there is no way to make real quarters come out of the coin slot by depositing too much money. After you've put in enough "money", the computerized voice will say in a cheerful, unsuspecting voice, "Thank you for using AT&T!" and your call is put through. Every few minutes the voice will come back and ask for more money.
Your red box can also be used to call your loved ones in other countries, although, it's annoying to do because you HAVE to use a live operator and your conversation will be inturrupted every three minutes by a computerized voice asking for another few bucks. But if you really need to call overseas...
Dial 011-COUNTRY CODE-CITY CODE-PHONE NUMBER. An operator will ask you how you want to bill your call. Tell her you'll be using the spare change you make as a waiter and MoogooGuawkcaMeemay's Chineese restaurant to pay for your call. For best results, don't do this:
OPERATOR: "Okay, sir, please deposit your money now..."
YOU: "Okay, ma'am, I'm going to use nickels...(beep)...That was one nickel. Did you get that alright? Okay, here's my second nickel...(beep)...okay, there's two nickels, that makes 10 cents. How much
more to go? $15.45? Okay...(beep)...I'm up to 15 cents now, right? Okay, good...(beep)...alright, there's another one...Hey, here's a penny on the ground! Can I use a penny? No? Okay, here goes lucky
nickel number five...(beep)...did you get that? Okay....etc, etc, etc."
The call will be completed like this: The operator will tell you that the call will cost (for example) $7.35. She'll tell you to deposit $3.00, you red box three dollars to her and she connects the call. When the overseas person answers the phone she'll say, "This is the United States AT&T operator, I have an international call for you, could you please hold while billing is completed?" Then the operator will ask you for another $3.00 and then the remaining $1.35. After all that you'll be connected only to be inturrupted every three minutes by an operator asking for more money. Sometimes you're inturrupted every three minutes by an automated system and sometimes it's a live operator.
If you don't want the person you are calling to know you're calling with coins, you can ask the operator if you can deposit all your money right now and then be connected overseas. They don't like to do this because you could lose all your "money" if they're not home but they will do it if you ask nice enough.
To red box a local call it takes about a minute or two longer than if you really paid for it, but those quarters add up so it's definately worth it
for the thrifty preak.
Pick up the phone and dial zero. Tell the operator that you want to make a local call. If she tells you just to put in a quarter and dial the number, tell her, "Well, ma'am, there's shit all over the keypad here and all the buttons are stickin' together and I CAN'T dial it myself. The only key that works is the zero and that's got this sticky blue shit all over it. Then there's a half-eatin' Twinkee shoved in the coin return and dirt all over the four and seven keys..." Keep going on and on until she gets grossed out and asks you what number you want to dial. She'll ask you for a quarter and connect your call.
Sometimes the operator will decide to be a bitch about it and tell you that in order for her to place the local call for you, it's gonna cost $1.10 instead of just 25 cents. Just complain a lot but finally give in and box her the money she wants. We all know who'll get the last laugh.
Make sure after your call connects that you hear the operator click off. Some operators are nosey and will just sit there listening to your conversation. Once I was explaining to a friend how I placed my call and suddenly the operator starts lecturing me and telling me she's going to call security on me. (And this was about three minutes into the conversation!)
In some cities I've noticed you can trick pay phones into thinking that a local call is actually a long distance call by dialing 10288 before you dial the local number. So try dialing 10288 or 102881 before you make your local call and maybe you won't have to deal with that pesky operator. The only downside of doing this is that the call will "cost" more and you'll be inturrupted every five minutes to deposit more money.
10288 is the long distance code for AT&T. If you want to attempt to use this code for a local call, there are three different ways to try it. If you lived in the 618 area code and were dialing 254-4999, you could try the following formats:
Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't. It all depends on the phone you're using and the local phone company. Before attempting a local call, please scroll this page up a little and read the "RISKS" section. Remember, using a live operator these days could possibly be hazardous to your health!
Ocasionally you'll run into problems while trying to red box a phone call, especially if you're just starting out. First of all, make sure your red box is working correctly. "I'm dialing a long distance number but the phone can't hear my red box tones through the earpiece!" This is usually because the local phone company has modified that pay phone so that no sound may enter the mouthpiece until real money is deposited. There are several different ways around this:
1. Wait for a live operator to come on. Tell her that you're ready to deposit your money. She'll ask you for the amount and you box in the coins, very slowly so that it sounds like you're really putting in money.
2. Deposit a real nickel first, then box in the rest of your money. That first nickel will sometimes cause the phone to trust you for the rest of it. This rarely works, but has saved me a few times.
3. Deposit a real $3.15 (or whatever) at the beginning of the call. When you're inturrupted every few minutes for money after that, you can usually box that in. This is only recommended if you're really desperate or really stupid. It'd be much more cost-effective to just go find another phone.
4. Bypass the pay phone altogether. If the wires to the pay phone are exposed, splice into them and hook up a normal household telephone. When the recording asks you for money, box in the coins into the phone you've hooked up. Once you've boxed your money in, unhook the phone and continue talking on the pay phone. This bypasses the pay phone's "mute" feature. Keep in mind that I've been severely shocked while playing around with pay phone wires. Apparently they carry a little more kick than your standard phone lines so be careful!
Sometimes a malfunctioning red box or making a local call can cause you to have to deal with a live operator who can get testy when they find out you're screwing the place that they work for. Here are some real operator responses heard by red boxers. If you've had a memorable experience while red boxing, send it to us!
1."Well, son, your toy doesn't seem to be working today. Why don't you try paying for your call instead?" -Hollywood, CA
2."What'd you do, record those tones on the train tracks?" - my friend got this response when trying to use a very poor quality cassette of red box tones in Wood River, IL
3."(sigh) Well, I'll put your call through, but next time I want you to pay real money for your call, okay?" -Galveston, TX
4."That's it! I'm sick of you kids, I'm calling security right now!" -Cincinnati, OH
5."You know you'll go to hell for stealing..." -Portland, OR
6."I wish I could go over there right now and strangle that kid." -I overheard an operator in Seattle say this to her supervisor after they thought I
had hung up the phone.
7."Okay, hold on while I turn you in to security." - Indianapolis, Indiana (What are they going to do, arrest me over the phone??)
8. "I know that you kids are useing that redbox thing, but the joke is on you becuase I just sent for Security, and they're on their way out there
right now!" Our response? "Oh, that's great! Can you tell them to bring some sandwiches because we've been doing this all day and boy are WE hungry! Nothing too fancy though, becuase you know us
phreaks..." This got a huge response from the other phreakers with me saying stuff like "yeah, but I'm allergic pb+j" then the operator proceeded to scream and go nuts. We wished her a happy day then
moved on. -Dr.S.
9. "Damn kids with their damn new toys." - Pittsburgh, PA.
10. I went out this morning, and had to call a friend in Atlanta. Well, I went to a nice little GTE phone, and decided to whip out my brand spankin
new Silver Optimus Digital Recorder. The tones I recorded were really half assed, and for some strange reason (because of no sleep the night before?) I expected them to work. So, I called my friends
number, and the woman comes on, and says, please deposit $4.25. So, I say ok, and i put my recorder up to the mic, and I start playing. Well, about $3.00 through, she comes on and starts laughing.
Then she says "Ha ha ha, Sir, you can deposit your coins at any time!" from Bor in Tampa, Florida
11. "Those coins aren't registering at all, sir. Canadian coins don't work in american payphones."
- Canadian Red Box How to make a Canadian red box.
- Red Box Some page that talks a little about red boxing.
- How to make a red box video This isn't really a great how-to video, but it's rather
entertaining. Requires a realvideo player.
- Real UK Red Boxing How to red box in the UK.
- Redboxing Millennium Payphones - By Jackel How to red box in the UK.
Feel free to post your own comments about this page below. If you'd prefer to make a general comment about phonelosers.org, try signing our guestbook instead. You can also find posts about red boxing in the PLA Forums.
5/2000 - I bought some crystals for my red box from PLA. The day I got em I put one in my red box like I am supposed to. I put it back together and it operates fine. So I go out to a set of payphones at a local convenience store. After a few minutes I realize the handsets are muted until coins are entered. So I figure, what the hell, lets find some more phones. We goto a grocery store payphones, a line of four payphones. These arn't muted. I insert my "coins" with the red box and dial the number. It tells me this call requires inserting coins. So I say, what the hell, and dial an operator. I tell them the keys on the phone are gummed and I can't dial. They say they wont dial it for me. So I try again and the idiot dials for me and I insert my "coins" once again. I put in "50 cents" and wait. He says the computer tells him that the coins didn't register, so he returns the "coins". Do you have any suggestions as to what the problem might be with my red box, or any social engineering ploys that may work with my box? -Motor Breath
3/2000 - for the red box i have a question.. for the crystal that i put it does it matter if its 6.55 ? i cant find any 6.5536 or 6.50 . Please i need some help ... does it matter really ? thanx for your time - cracK -
Nope, makes no difference. 6.5anything will work. The frequency originally suggested in 2600 Magazine was 6.49something. But the closest standard crystal at the time was 6.5536 which probably means (I'm guessing) that anything in the 6.3xx to 6.6xx range would work.
on my copy of the radio shack catalog the number for a 6.5536 crystal is XC 496CT-ND and it costs 3.35 for one, and the ECS part No. is ECS-65-12-7 -HexTasy
Ive found that a micro cassette recorder works the best for redboxing because you can get the exact quarter tones. If you have noticed that the tones that a tonedialer redbox produces are slightly off timing. Well i just thought that i should tell you that. Oh an by the way you can fool the operator more easily if there is no background noise.
I kept my reciept when I ordered the 6.5536 crystal from radio shack so moaybe you can put this info on your red box page to help others finding this part since radio shack will do their hardest to not assist you in finding this number. Since I work at radio shack, I can get anything at ease and if anyone comes to my store, I will assist them to their phreaking desires! :) anyway, upon arriving at any radio shack, they should tell the salesman that they want to order a Radio Shack Unlimited product, or RSU for short. Tell them to order RSU #10068625 . When they ring this up, their computer only shows it simply as "Timer Crystal" therefore mos likely disguising your intent. If they ask, you can always say it's for your computer motehrboard or something.
I recently bought a 97 model tone dialer from radio shack. Its one of the new hack proof models with the z3.58 capacitor that is really the old crystal. Anyway, I replaced it with a 6.53360 mhz timer crystal I bought from radio shack too....But after installing, the tones generated aren't nearly high pitched enough to phreak quarter tones. I wondered
if you have any suggestions or know someone I might talk too.....Thanx... -Pam
you're the second person I've heard that from but everyone else says it works just fine. So check your connections & try again. Also, try comparing the tones on your red box to the tones on your regular telephone. Are you sure they're the same?
A good source for 6.50 red boxing crystals is Digikey. Call them at 1-800-digikey and ask them what the part number is and the address. They cost $1.30 plus $5.00 shipping. I just used one to build a red box with a rat shack #430-146 dialer.
You can order a 6.5536Mhz Crystal from JDR Micro devices, a company that sells PC components. They have all different kinds of crystals. They will ship a Magazine to you for free and there web page is www.jdr.com. I thought I'd tell you 'cause it seems some people have trouble finding them. -Ryan
i checked out www.mouser.com and found out the latest info on 6.5 crystals: #520-HCA655-12 the 6.553 MHz crystal $1.18 plus s+h #520-HCU650-20 the 6.5 MHz crystal $1.55 plus s+h -napalmoliv