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US calls sale scandal picks up steam

Writs fly as lawmakers take action

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The scandal over the sale of mobile phone call records to data brokers in the US is gaining momentum. T-Mobile, the number four US mobile operator, has obtained an injunction against two firms - Data Find Solutions and 1st Source Information Specialists - that it alleges have illegally obtained customer records, Reuters reports.

The same two firms were the subject of a similar restraining order obtained by Cingular last week. 1st Source offer its services through online sites including locatecell.com and celltolls.com. Data Find Solutions is thought to have sold these websites to 1st Source.

Dozens of data brokers in the US make a business selling call records - sometimes obtained from phone company insiders or by deception - for about $100 per account per month. Data brokers commonly impersonate consumers in order to obtain access to call records, a practice called pretexting.

The chief market for these call records is private investigators, but an investigation by the Chicago Sun Times suggests the information is available to anyone who's prepared to pay. Few or no checks are applied over the identity of the person requesting information.

US lawmakers are pushing forward with plans to make it illegal to use deception to obtain phone records. A bipartisan group of senators are backing a bill that would make it a crime to make false statements in order to obtain consumers' phone records.

It would also become an offence for phone company workers to sell these call records to third parties without customer permission. Meanwhile, regulators at the Federal Communications Commission are investigating (PDF statement) whether mobile phone firms have done enough to prevent sensitive data from leaking out.

Scammers are taking advantage of user concern and confusion over the sale of call records to dupe users into signing up to unofficial "do not call" registers. The growing use of the ruse has prompted an official statement from the Federal Trade Commission, the US consumer watchdog organisation, advising consumers that their phone numbers are not about to be released to telemarketers in the near future. "It is not necessary to register cell phone numbers on the national Do Not Call (DNC) Registry to be protected from most telemarketing calls to cell phones," it said. ®

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