For Sale: Your Cell Phone Records

Posted on 11. Mar, 2006 by in Fraud & Scams, News

“If you are in a certain life situation where illegitimate access to your cell records could cause problems, like a nasty divorce or custody case or a business lawsuit, or you’re the victim of a stalker, you’re vulnerable,” says Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “Your adversary could obtain your cell phone records through a broker and use them against you.”

That’s right, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse reports that information brokers, through a constantly changing network of Web sites, are selling cell phone records for as little as $110 to any interested party. Apparently the most common way of obtaining your records is called “pretexting” – where someone calls your phone company pretending to be you and asks for your records to be faxed or emailed to the scammers email or fax number. Another fairly common scenario – especially among those who don’t use the web to check their phone records – occurs when a company or broker gets Web access to your cell phone records by creating an account in your name and using it to check your records. Since you never check your records online, you’ll never know.

So how do you protect yourself? Bankrate.com has these suggestions:

Password-protect your cell phone account. This doesn’t just mean logging on to your online account with your cell phone provider and picking a password that isn’t your nickname, your birthday, your phone number, your mother’s maiden name, your Social Security number or your kid’s birthday. This means picking up the phone and calling your cell phone company and telling them to only allow access to your account to individuals who can come up with the right password and that if you forget it, you’ll go to their nearest store and show your ID to get a new password.
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Opt out of CNPI, or customer proprietary network information, sharing. “Cell phone companies use your phone records for marketing purposes, not only to sell you new services but also to sell your information to outside companies that want to market to you,” says Chris Jay Hoofnagle, director and senior counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information’s West Coast Office. “They hate it when you opt out and make it as difficult as possible to do so. In fact, you have to call the wireless company and insist on it, and then sometimes the customer services rep will say they don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Set up cell service in your name. The easiest way others can access your records is if they are paying the bill. This includes your spouse or significant other, your employer or your parents. This is a problem if you use your employer-provided cell phone to make personal calls or use it in a search for another job, especially if you are talking to competitors. So to ensure your privacy, get your own phone and put the bill in your name and have it sent to a post office box that is only in your name.

Ask your wireless provider to remove online access and call details. If you don’t access your cell phone records online or plan to do so in the future, call your cell company and ask them to deactivate online access to your account. If you have unlimited minutes or aren’t interested in the details of your call history, you can also ask to have this specific information removed from your bill.

One final piece of advice from me is to contact your local and state government representatives and let them know that you’re not happy with the way your personal information is being handled. Someone has to start raising the warning voice.

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