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Cell phone fraud warning: How to avoid becoming a victim

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Craig Johnson, Clark.com

It’s safe to say that cell phones have become must-have gadgets for most of us these days. Because criminals know this, they’re targeting cell phone users and their accounts to line their own pockets.

Consumer Reports recently highlighted how crooks can use your name to open a bogus cell-phone account and pull money from your bank account. The Federal Communications Commission classifies instances where crooks get into your cell phone account as subscriber fraud. But the agency says another rampant type of cell phone fraud is called cloning. Together, these scams cost taxpayers millions of dollars in false charges annually, the agency says.

Watch out for these 2 kinds of fraud involving cell phones

“It’s a rude awakening,” Kyle Marchini, senior fraud management analyst at Javelin Strategy and Research, tells Consumer Reports. “Cell phone account fraud can become a huge mess that, unlike credit card fraud, doesn’t have infrastructure in place to resolve.”

While cell phone schemes such as porting scams are nothing new, subscriber fraud and cloning represent some of the more modern ways bad guys are looking to profit.

Here’s how cell phone subscriber fraud works: “Subscriber fraud occurs when someone signs up for service with fraudulently obtained customer information or false identification. Lawbreakers obtain your personal information and use it to set up a cell phone account in your name,” the FCC says on its website.

If you own a small business, cell phone fraud can happen to your company as well. NBC 12 reported about a Virginia entrepreneur who received a huge bill in the mail after criminals walked into a Verizon and AT&T store and bought thousands of dollars in phones using his company’s name.

Cell phone subscriber fraud: How to stay protected

Because many cases of subscriber fraud can occur at the point of sale, the FCC advises that during the phone purchasing process, make sure your personal information is safeguarded.

Not many people know that there is a credit-reporting agency that deals specifically with utilities and telecom inquiries called the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE). Freeze your credit with the NCTUE by enrolling in the Exchange Service Center voluntary security freeze program or by calling 1-866-349-5355.

Cell phone cloning is a growing problem

Another cell phone scam the agency warns about is cloning, which is when crooks get a hold of your phone’s unique serial number and 10-digit mobile number.

The FCC explains it this way: “Every cell phone should have a unique factory-set electronic serial number and telephone number. A cloned cell phone is one that has been reprogrammed to transmit the ESN (electronic serial number) and MIN (mobile identification number) belonging to another legitimate cell phone. Unscrupulous people can obtain valid ESN/MIN combinations by illegally monitoring the radio wave transmissions from the cell phones of legitimate subscribers. After cloning, both the legitimate and the fraudulent cell phones have the same ESN/MIN combination and cellular systems cannot distinguish the cloned cell phone from the legitimate one.”

As you might imagine, once your phone’s been cloned, you can be on the hook for all of the crook’s phone calls and data charges.

What to do about cell phone cloning

If you suspect that your phone’s been cloned, the best thing you can do is to contact your service provider.

“To prevent cell phone cloning fraud, ask your service provider about authentication systems installed by device manufacturers as a countermeasure,” the FCC says.

Because it usually takes a while before someone discovers that they’ve been victimized, it’s not easy to resolve cell phone fraud. If you fall prey, you will have to prove that you did not incur the debts on your account. And it will likely be a long and painful process.

Money expert Clark Howard says the #1 way to protect yourself against fraud is by freezing your credit. With a freeze, crooks won’t be able to take out new lines of credit in your name. You’ll also have to thaw your account to allow legitimate credit inquiries.

The Clark-approved way to protect yourself from fraud

Clark recommends the following approach to fraud protection. Here’s what to do:

  1. First, sign up for free credit monitoring at CreditKarma.com or CreditSesame.com and second, freeze your credit. Here is a step-by-step guide to get you started.
  2. Freeze your credit at the three major credit-reporting bureaus. Here’s an in-depth guide on how to contact Equifax, TransUnion and Experian to freeze your accounts.

And, again, if you want to protect yourself as fully as possible when it comes to cell phone fraud, you should freeze your credit with the NCTUE as outlined above.

Keep up to date with the latest cell phone safety tips and more at Clark.com. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

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