Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Scrambling to Catch Cellular Thieves

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Scrambling to Catch Cellular Thieves

Article excerpt

NEW HAVEN, Conn. _ Across the country, high-tech thieves are pulling cellular signals out of the air to create clone phones that let users illegally make calls free of charge.

Cellular phone companies have been scrambling to keep up with the pirates. Just when they think they've got one type of fraud licked, another comes along.

Southern New England Telephone Co., the Connecticut local phone company, is one of the first seeking to stop cloning with a new weapon: anti-piracy computer software that recognizes unusual calling patterns.

Without the software, cellular carriers have often been unable to detect the thievery until legitimate subscribers call to complain about huge bills run up on their accounts by counterfeiters.

SNET Cellular is using CloneDetector, artificial intelligence software developed by GTE Telecommunications Services, a unit of GTE Corp. With the system, it only takes about six minutes to perform a sophisticated analysis of a call, said Joe Juliano, director of industry matters for SNET Cellular.

In the past, the company would have had to spend hours sifting through volumes of calling data to detect signs of counterfeiting.

"If it was a couple thousand dollars in one day, we'd pick it up. But if it wasn't that much out of whack yet, generally the customers would pick it up before us," Juliano said.

In some cases, the amount of pirated calling time reached into the tens of thousands of dollars, he added.

"The technology they are using is just now coming into its own," said Sharpe Smith, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association in Washington, D.C. "The cellular industry has really banded together and set off on a direction of trying to attack this problem from a technological viewpoint as well as the law enforcement side."

Industry estimates of companies' losses from cellular fraud, which is a federal felony, range from $100 million to $300 million a year.

Since the industry launched a broad anti-fraud program in 1991, authorities have seized thousands of computer chips used to illegally alter phones, and more than 100 people have been arrested, the association said.

While subscribers aren't held responsible for calls made by counterfeiters, they must have their phones reprogrammed with new numbers, a costly inconvenience that companies are trying to avoid. …

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