Thieves Able to Hack Cell Phones Through ‘Porting'

How thieves bilk unsuspecting victims with 3 simple pieces of information

Ed Hyden knew something was wrong when his phone didn’t ring on his birthday.

“My mom hasn’t called, my grandparents, my brothers,” Hyden recalled.

In retrospect, it was the first sign Hyden no longer controlled his own phone. It turned out that he was an unsuspecting victim of phone-porting thieves.

Here’s how it works: someone called his wireless number posing as him, and switched the number to a different one. All they needed was his name, number and the last 4 digits of his social security number.

“Knowing that someone can just come in and transfer that service to take anything they want, that’s kind of terrifying,” Hyden said.

In a matter of hours, thieves used his stolen identity and phone to charge $10,000 on his American Express card. When Amex called him over the big purchase, the call went to the thief.

“That’s when I started to feel like a crime was being committed against me,” Hyden said.

Ironically, porting or number portability as it’s officially named, was implemented years ago to protect consumers who wanted to keep their phone numbers when switching carriers. Now that thieves are using it as a weapon, safeguards in the law protect victims from incurring financial loss, but can’t protect them from the hours they’ll spend trying to unwind the mess.

The Federal Trade Commission called Hyden’s case alarming and says it’s received about 100 complaints nationwide, including dozens in Florida where investigators say this part of ID theft is under reported.

"Usually when people report identity theft, they’ll report the bigger fraud, Miami Dade Detective Marco Rodriguez said. “The credit cards that were ordered, the loans taken under their names.”
Experts say there are precautions consumers can take, including calling your cell phone provider and setting up as much security as possible. That’s what Hyden did, and he now has an extra 4-digit PIN on his account.

When we called his carrier, Verizon Wireless, they said “they’re working to stay one step ahead of the criminals, but the trick is balancing security with customer service.”

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