Steps for Dealing with Wireless Fraud

By Leigh Jones Journal Record Reporter | THE JOURNAL RECORD, April 10, 1997 | Go to article overview

Steps for Dealing with Wireless Fraud


Leigh Jones Journal Record Reporter, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Like answering machines and call waiting, cellular telephones have left most of us wondering how we ever functioned without them. But with technological bliss come some very real problems -- wireless fraud.

It's a $650 million mess annually and can give unsuspecting customers a startling wake-up call when their bill arrives.

"It's a shock to customers who open up their bill expecting a $100 charge, and they have $1,500 worth of calls," said Paul Boris, an expert on wireless fraud detection and prevention with Southwestern Bell. What's sneaky about the thievery is that the bandits need not steal customers' phones to tap into their accounts. In most cases, they set up shop at hotels, highway overpasses and airports, using scanners to pilfer customers' electronic serial number (ESN), the code that enables cell phones to work. The culprits then reprogram other phones with working numbers, racking up big charges on customers' bills. Boris tells of one incident in which a phone crook express-mailed a scanner to a fictitious address across the country. When the scanner was returned to the thief it was loaded with numbers to use from cell phone customers coast-to-coast. However, sometimes the thieves are more overt and engage in what's known in the business as cloning. The culprits actually steal the phone, reprogram it with someone else's ESN and a stolen phone number. With this practice, there are two victims -- the phone owner and the account holder. Boris says that wireless fraud first surfaced in major metropolitan areas -- Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston. But he adds that as fraud detection programs are implemented in these cities, the thievery moves to the mid-sized towns and eventually to rural areas. To combat the problem and avoid passing on the costs to customers, Southwestern Bell is initiating some new technologies. First is its Wireless Fraud Management System, utilized in 100 percent of the wireless market. …

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