What is Cell Phone Fraud?

In today's fast-paced marketplace of mobile technology, there are literally so many different types of cell phones and service providers it is often difficult to distinguish one from the other.  The popularity of these devices has also been a contributing factor to the crime of cell phone fraud that is victimizing consumers at an alarming rate. 


According the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), cell phone fraud is defined as the unauthorized use, tampering, or modification of a particular cell phone device or service.  This crime became more prevalent in 1990s - as a result, the Wireless Telephone Protection Act was passed in 1998.  This act criminalized the possession, use, manufacturing, sale or distribution of software or hardware that could be used to replicate fraudulent cell phones, an act of cell phone fraud known as "cloning."

What makes a cell phone vulnerable to exploitation is it's unique ESN (electronic serial number), and surprisingly, it's phone number.  Malicious individuals combine complex software and hardware devices to illegally monitor data transmissions from the cell phones of authorized subscribers.  With this stolen data, they are able to clone the compromised phone with one that has been reprogrammed to retransmit the ESN and phone number of another authorized cell phone user.  Being that both the compromised phone and clone are equipped with the same identifying number, the service provider cannot determine a difference and the fraud goes undetected.  Eventually, the legitimate subscriber who has no knowledge of the crime receives a monthly invoice with charges tallied from both phones. 

Manufacturers have joined in the battle against cell phone fraud by making vast improvements in their products.  Many cell phones are now designed in a way that makes them more resistant to remote tampering and reprogramming.  As a few of these companies have prompted sound results, experts believe the new security implementations will drastically reduce cell phone fraud in the near future. 

Subscriber Fraud

Cell phone scams are such a threat because they can act as a gateway for more severe crimes, such as identity theft, a frequent result of subscriber fraud.  In this scenario, a con artist purchases and establishes a cell phone account in someone else's name.  They are usually able to pull this off by obtaining the victim's name and Social Security number.  Aside from being invoiced for the fraudulent account, the legitimate cell phone user is literally at the mercy of a thief who is equipped with their personal information.  Clearing up this matter is often a grueling process that takes months to be resolved.    

The Ongoing Battle

As with any type of identity theft, the best defense against subscriber fraud is to securely handle and store your personal information.  Old check stubs and bank statements should be destroyed in a cross-cut shredder; never just tossed in a public trash bin.  You should also remain weary when communicating online as the internet has become an open platform for the most advanced scams. 

Thanks to the aid of manufacturers, cell phone cloning is declining while subscriber fraud incidents continue to escalate.  In the end, you must take the initiative to keep your identity safe and out the hands of unscrupulous thieves. 

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