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Web sites sell phone records for $100
amNewYork Staff Writer
January 15, 2006

You may already be a victim of cellular "records rip-off" and not even know it.

Anyone -- a stalker, a jealous lover, a curious employer -- with merely your cell-phone number can visit one of several Web sites, pay around $100, and in a few hours find out whom you've been calling and who's been calling you.

Indeed, the Web site Americablog revealed last week that it successfully obtained the records of Gen. Wesley Clark, the former presidential candidate.

"All we needed was General Clark's cell phone number and our credit card, and 24 hours later we had one hundred calls the general made on his cell phone in November," according to a posting on the site, which said it contacted Clark about its efforts to expose the dangers of the practice, which is in a legal gray area.

The problem has prompted lawsuits and increasing attention from lawmakers, but some 40 or so companies have kept at it.

"If you have a legitimate need you can get these records, the problem is these companies are offering an illegal shortcut that is unfair to the consumer," said Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy organization.

Hoofnagle said he believes these companies are violating federal laws by engaging in deception in commerce. Hoofnagle said that he believes most of the records are bought by jealous spouses or significant others.

Third parties are supposed to go to court to get phone records and have to convince a judge that those records are important to a legal case.

But for these companies, time may be running out.

On Friday, Cingular Wireless, the nation's largest cell-phone carrier, has received a temporary restraining order against 1st Source Information Specialists, a Florida firm that owns locatecell.com and several other Web sites that offer these records.

On the legislative front, House Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada on Friday called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate how these companies are obtaining this information.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) plans to introduce legislation in the Senate tomorrow that would make it a felony to obtain customer information from a telephone-service provider by pretending to be someone else, a practice called "pretexting," widely believed to be a chief way these companies accessing the data.

The bill also would make it a crime for phone company employees to sell a customer's cell phone records.

"We are going to take every step to ensure that stealing cell-phone records is a criminal act, punishable by law," said Schumer in a statement. "We already have these protections for our financial information; we ought to have it for the very personal information that can be gleaned from our telephone records."

Lawmakers and privacy experts say the practice appears to violate existing laws, but there are presently no federal laws that ban the practice specifically.

Cingular sued 1st Source Information Specialists Inc. and its officers, Kenneth W. Gorman and Steven Schwartz, in an Atlanta federal district court in December. The suit also named locatecell.com's previous owner, Data Find Solutions, Inc.

Their suit alleges that the defendants obtained private customer information through "'social engineering,' improper hacking, and/or through unauthorized access to online account information stored on Cingular's databases."

Cingular spokesman Mark Siegel said that customer's cell phone records can only be released to the customer or to law enforcement.

"No one else is entitled to these records, the businesses who try to get them are committing a kind of identity theft which we're calling 'records rip-off'," Siegel said.

Siegel said Cingular is aggressively going after companies like locatecell.com and that they train their customer-service representatives to be on the look out for people trying to get that information.

Legal troubles appear to be mounting for locatecell.com, whose Web site yesterday still offered to obtain a month's worth of cell phone records for $110.

Earlier this month Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan subpoenaed locatecell.com in an effort to learn how they obtained customer information.

The legal problems seem to be mounting as Representatives from 1st Source Information Specialists Inc could not be reached for comment and calls to Gorman's home were not answered.

While the legal issue of selling cell phone records is still being worked out, people can have trouble proving that they've been victims.

"The problem with privacy cases is that most privacy plaintiffs have to give up their privacy," Hoofnagle said. "In order to sue you have to show up in court and show that they used your phone records."

I have a friend who works in collections. If they know anything about you, name, phone number, address etc., they can find everything for a few bucks. If you think your Social Security number is safe - guess again. Anyone can buy it. After they buy your Social Security Number, they can buy your phone records from this website http://searchenginez.com/socsec_usa.html or http://www.bestpeoplesearch.com/basic-search-by-name-address/c-PL,Service.aspx. At the latter web address they can buy your landline phone numbers for only $37.00.