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with Josh O'Connell

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Beware of cell phone cloning.

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Sprint LogoHaving spent a number of years working in the cell phone industry, I had heard of, but never personally encountered, an instance of cell phone cloning. In this, a person manages to have a cell phone that “spoofs” another phone, and the network assumes that the fake phone is really the real phone. Why would someone do this? The owner of the real phone gets charged for calls made by the fake phone.

It not only is still a real and present danger, it happened to my mom.

Last month, I got a frantic phone call from her stating that her cell phone was over $2,000. She called Sprint, and they reprogrammed her phones. Today, she called me again: her bill had risen to $6,000. Although the problem has been fixed, the charges made before the fix only showed up now, and Sprint’s fraud department has been looking into it.

Of course, Sprint didn’t credit any of the prior month’s charges when the new bill came out, so they shut her down, which I guess makes sense – you’d cut off someone who owed you $2,000 as well. But that doesn’t exactly make a customer happy. Thankfully, the company appears to be working with her now.

As it turns out, this is not a new issue for Sprint: as early as last May, Sprint was already dealing with the problem with some customers in the Virgin Islands. While the problem is rare, it does happen, and it’s important to be wary of the possibility of this.

As a reminder to everyone, it’s important to check your cell phone bill each month, whether for plan features or charges you didn’t ask for, all the way to issues like what mom is dealing with. It’s especially important because many people opt for autopay on a cell phone bill, and given that these issues generally take a couple of weeks to research and resolve, autopay could be triggered before the bill is fixed. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have to deal with a $2,000 withdrawl from my bank account.

If it does happen to you, all of the cell phone companies have a fraud department whose sole job is to research issues like this. They’re generally responsive; in my mom’s case, it was obvious that she couldn’t be in Jamaica and the U.S. at the same time, making calls in both places. The fraudsters made so many calls in such a small window of time, which also didn’t fit my mom’s usage pattern. The fraud departments will generally work with you if it’s obvious, and generally with fraudsters, it is.

24 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    I am currently trying to clone a phone of my own. Anyone know how to do this?? I may have access to the equipment required.

    trovely@gmail.com

  2. Nancy says:

    I have been with tmobil for over 2 years now and my contract with them expired. I have been paying ever month for a family plan about $98. I received a bill from last month of $400, and the anytime share minutes for this month have been used as well…

    Before I called Tmobil to dispute the charges, I received a phone call from this lady asking for this guy and told her she had the grown phone #. She calls again, and this time she repeats the phone number she is calling and is my phone #. I told her you may need to check you friends number may be similar to mine… She said no this is his phone number and kind of confused hanged up the phone. Again she calls and now she is asking me where I got her boyfriend’s phone…and I told her what you are talking about…? She said the number I’m calling is my boyfriend’s and I have it in speed dial and I know it by heart. She said he has been with Tmobil for 3 months now… I told her I have been with this phone # for over 2 years… She said this is strange and I’ll tell my boyfriend to call Tmobil and find out what is going on and you should do the same. Before she hanged up she asked me if I was Vietnamese and I told her no… for this I assume she was Vietnamese..

    I called Tmobil several times and spoke with different customer service R. and supervisors and they don’t want to help me with this. They say I have to pay for the bill of $400, and no one has offer to investigate! The 3 supervisor I spoke to hanged up the phone on me… I told them to check my usage and bill history in over 2 years so then could see I have never overused my phone minute as I cannot afford it… but they were very defensive! They want me to pay $128 instead of $400 with a 2 year contract! This is manipulation!

    I’m about to go to the main tmobil office as not all Tmobil offices can help you with this and try to get help… if I don’t get any help.. I’m about to write a letter to tmobil corporate office and the business bureau and the government cell phone fraud office.

    If anyone has any other idea of how to handle this please help! This has caused me so much stress and I don’t have the money to pay this bill which is unfair as I didn’t overused my minutes! I’m about to change companies and I’m very upset and disjointed with Tmobil customer service!!!!

  3. Cindy says:

    In addition,my landline is being tapped too

  4. Cindy says:

    Every cell phone I get is cloned- every single one,passwords hacked,the list goes on.Is there anything I can get to stop my p hone from being cloned?

  5. Carleen says:

    My husband is taking his Sprint phone right now to the Diagnostics Dept. Calls from Oregon and even Missouri, Washington. His Sprint phone locks up and tiny little yellow squares appear all over his screen. The Fraud Dept said they couldn’t help him and sent him to the Sprint store for a Diagnostics check-up on his phone. Looks like he is making and receiving calls but he isn’t. One months over 5000 text msgs and the next month over 8000 text msgs. Hope to find out what is going on with Sprint.

  6. Jeff Cantwell says:

    Just happened on our Sprint account as well. (10-29-2011). 3rd time our account has been hacked. Once someone traded in 3 dead phones for 3 new Blackberries.

    Which begs the question, if it’s so easy to intercept the ESN/MIN combo, WHY IS IT TRANSMITTED CLEAR TEXT?? Ever hear of encryption? Even home routers are encrypted. My PC is 20 feet from my router, and it’s encrypted. My cell is half a mile from a cell tower, and it’s NOT encrypted?

  7. Vulture says:

    Why does it seem that this has only happened to Sprint customers? I have had Verizon for so long that I don’t remember and have NEVER had a problem.

  8. yikes says:

    this just happened to me. someone called sprint with my pin, added international dialing and blew up my account. most likely because of stories like yours early in 2010, they caught it and shut down access to my account just in time. didn’t take anything to get the charges reversed. i’m sorry your mother had such a hassle with hers.

  9. rachel says:

    I have 32 mins of south korea international charges on my sprint bill this month that I did not make. I think I’ve been a victim of this scam! I don’t know anyone overseas nor did I call overseas :(

  10. Shaney says:

    My Gf’s ex-husband claimed his phone had been hacked or cloned. She began receiving threatening harassing ” TEXTS” from his number and went on for a couple weeks. He swears he was not doing it and his carrier was resetting his Blkbrry for him on a daily basis to ” un-hack” his phone. No other services were used and no fraudulent calls were made and he still insists it wasn’t him. C’mon. Texts ONLY. I say BS. Comments !

  11. Scamed Twice says:

    My wifes phone was cloned in Sept and then agin in Oct. We contacted Sprint and was transfered to the fraud dept also. Now, I find out that my neice, whom I pay for on our plan, was cloned too when I got the $1700 of charges from “her” phone. {Same story: overseas usage and phone calls. She is 9 yrs old and has never left the state.) Sprint has taken off the charges (again) but it does concern me at how they (Sprint) can still make money/stay in business and deal with all these charges too. Sprint indicated it was a Connecticut and Oregon phone numbers (area codes) at that time. Since this has started, we have maxed out any available fraud alert Sprint has and are changeing passwords nearly on a daily basis inaddition to allowing NO overseas/out of country calls. Time will tell to see if this works.

  12. Distraught says:

    I had no idea how common a thing this was. I just had my phone cloned 2 days ago, luckily I caught it thanks to a few text messages I recieved from Sprint noting that my pin and account were changed. WHAT?! How they do it boggles me. But what disturbs me even more is that the frauder posed as my husband (uh,single here) to get access to my account and change its settings to allow for international calls. Is it so easy to pose as someone elses spouse (over the phone) and claim they forgot the pin to their account??? Apparently so… security breach anyone?

  13. Debbie says:

    Both my husbands and mine cell phones were cloned within the past two weeks. I had added myself to my husbands Sprint account and got the Epic 4G, and pretty much instantly the phone (or so I thought) was having trouble making calls and sometimes the texts wouldn’t go out or I wouldn’t receive them. So I called Sprint, ended up trading my phone for the EVO, but the new phone had the same problem, only worse, So I traded that phone with another EVO, because Sprint seemed to think It was a bad device. but Still I had the problem. and a week later I received a call from a number 829, and researched and knew of the scam, of where they wanted you to call back, but of course, I blacklisted this number and never got another call. A week later my husband got a call from a number area code 849, I told him about the scam and he blacklisted them. and then the next day my husband went to pay the bill online, and we noticed that we had $181 worth of international calls racked up. We reviewed the call log and saw we had calls from South Korea, and Vietnam. I called Sprint, and they referred me to Fraud Dept, but they were closed. later that night, I was researching and show that someone had enabled our phones to ‘Allow International calls’ and had added a International plan. Of course me or my husband didn’t So I call Sprint back and had them to take this off and flag the account to NEVER allow International calls. They had advised me that someone by the name of Arisa had called a week to the day after I added my line and provided our pin and added this. My husband states he got a text the week after he added my line, saying they wanted to make sure the change to the account was his doing, and he just ignored it, but then the same day he states a man with an accent called claiming to be Sprint wanted to confirm this and he had to provide them his pin. So this is how they got the pin. I’m not sure how they got his number in the first place. We are working with Sprint’s Fruad department to get this resolved. I hope they will take away the charges, since we caught this before the bill posted. hopefully Sprint will resolve this or I will be cancelling my line, because the phone is still under 30 days old.

  14. Rick says:

    My wife and three kids phone were all cloned in the past week. They could not receive or make calls and their phones went straight to voice mail when called. Also no text messages would go either in or out. In my instance, they were able to hack into Sprint.com change over all phone lines to the phones they must of had and assigned new numbers. Also we were getting several calls from NY area code on all four phones with Arabic sounding accents. Sprint said they made over sea calls and texts, only about $70 worth before they were shut off by Sprint Fraud Department. Careful if weird things start to happen.
    Reprogrammed phone and no further problem so far.

  15. John says:

    I’m pretty paranoid about cloning and scams and the like. It’s unbelievable how bad this can get and the amount of charges that can get racked up.

  16. Kathy says:

    My phone just got cloned two days ago. I started to get a lot of calls on Saturday night from two area codes I did not recognize. I wrote the numbers down but did not call them back. I continued to get calls all weekend and into Monday. I called Sprint to report the fraudulent calls (a few of the numbers show up as known scammers if you google search) and the customer service rep informed me that there were over $600 worth of charges to my account, all calls to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Since I only use my phone for emergencies they must have gotten my info from sprint.com. My phone has been reprogrammed and the fraud department is investigating.

  17. Yaimy says:

    I live in Miami and I’m currently is Atlanta for work for two weeks and it seems that someone cloned my phone two days ago. I think I know how it happened. I was holding my phone while in line to go into a club when a guy, who by the accent I could tell was from Jamaica, put his cell phone next to mine and when I reacted he just tried to pretend he was interested in getting my number. He was standing in line behind me for about 10 minutes. Within 12 hours, mid day next day, I started receiving phone calls from an 876 area code. I researched the number and it is from Jamaica. Around the same time I received calls from someone with a Jamaican accent saying that I had called their number. My family was calling me and the calls were not coming through; I realized that something weird was going on. So I call Sprint and reported what was happening within the same day, and with no even 24 after cloning there were $1,100 of charges in my phone. I made sure a restriction was put on my account not to allow any non-local calls to go through. I contacted the fraud department 1888 788 0788 to dispute the charges and they changed my phone ID and went to a Sprint store to have the phone reprogrammed. And only after reprogramming had the restriction taken off. I also had my account pin changed. I just reactivated the phone about an hour ago and have not received more calls from the 876 area code. I hope this info is helpful to someone. Made sure to back up our contacts before reprogramming. And never let a stranger get too close to you, especially in Atlanta.

  18. nick says:

    my line was just cloned and i have a $10k plus bill for calls to jamaica from florida. that’s just within the space of a month. sprint’s fraud dept is working with me and has been apologetic so that’s good. the only way i knew it was happening was because most of my calls and texts weren’t coming through, just going straight to voicemail. plus i wasn’t getting missed call or voicemail notifications.

    i called sprint three times about these symptoms and they told me it was probably an outage in my area. it wasn’t until i went into a corporate sprint store that someone looked into my calling history and discovered fraudulent activity. unfortunately most people probably won’t know it’s happening until they get the bill, unless of course they auto-pay in which case their bank account might get drained!

    the sprint fraud agent told me that my information was probably taken from my sprint.com online profile, so i guess the lesson is to change my pin and password frequently.

  19. Cell phone cloning is a very serious thing. Once the information in the cell phone gets out, it will bring the serious results.

  20. cloned says:

    This does happen to other users on other carriers as well, it is unfortunate that there are people out there that are devious and just don;t care about hurting others, if you work with your carrier you will be satidfied with the outcome, they usually make you whole. It is not like they want to charge you for services that aren’t yours. Advice to be considered – if you use online services like carrier websites be sure to change you password and pin regularly, more times than not, the theives will use your identity against you and this is usually the case with these instances.

  21. Maksim n says:

    i just saw the same thing on our 3 phones at sprint! Sprint blocked our phones apparently, but the new bill just came out and I realized this.

    Have $500 of international calls showing up! How the heck did this happen? Time to leave sprint?

  22. Josh O'Connell says:

    Sprint hasn’t really released a lot on how it’s being done currently (the original article I linked to made it seem like someone needed to be in proximity, but people could just relocate and grab info. from other areas), but I know these aren’t isolated incidents. It’s by no means rampant, but it’s happening enough that there appears to be flaws with Sprint’s system that need to be fixed.

    As far as my mom’s case was concerned, she just checked in from time to time to make sure it was getting taken care of… after one of the calls, she got an E-mail back within 12 hours with a massive credit applied covering the calls she didn’t make.

  23. Karen says:

    We have four phones on a single account/family plan with Sprint. All 4 of our phones were cloned the first week of February. The only way we figured it out was that we were not getting our phone calls (they would go to voice mail) and my phone could no longer make long distance calls. We were all getting a lot of calls from Jamaica and Canada. Fortunatley we caught it before the bill came out. But, Sprint cannot guarantee us that the charges will be dropped before the bill does come out. There are hundreds of dollars worth of charges. One phone had over 980 minutes worth of calls to Jamaica. There is very little recent information about this on the web. I do not understand how it is being done or how it happened.