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Woman targeted in new type of cellphone scam

Last Updated Feb 3, 2020 at 12:51 pm EDT

A Canadian woman says her personal information was compromised after doing what she thought was the prudent thing and ignoring what appeared to be a suspicious text message.

Samantha Burnet says she received the message last Saturday, telling her that her cellphone provider had received a request to transfer her telephone number to another service provider. She was also asked to call a 1-877 number if she didn’t authorize the request.

Burnet shrugged off the message, saying she researched the bizarre eight digit phone number as well as the contents of the text, and didn’t find anything credible online.

“It looked like a scam from the beginning and I didn’t think anything of it,” she said. “But within two hours, I had no cellphone service on my phone.”

Two hours after receiving that text, Burnet says her phone suddenly lost service. After calling Rogers, her cell-phone provider, she learned that she had been a victim of a scam and they began the process of getting her phone number back. She also realized that because she used her cellphone number as a two-factor authentication for her log-ins, her peronsal information could be vulnerable.

“They now had my number, so they can get into both email accounts and from there they were able to go into my Amazon account,” she said. “They were able to process orders on Amazon. They signed up for Prime and they ordered $800 worth of Playstation 4 systems.”

Phone porting, a process where people who change providers but want to keep their same number, has been around for more than two decades. According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), only active telephone numbers are eligible to be transferred. Burnet, who never made a request to her company to transfer her number, found it frustrating that she wasn’t protected.

“Sending me a text message that I need to respond to in 10 minutes, that is very unrealistic,” she said. “But talking to them, their hands are tied based on the competition rules within the telecommunications industry. They can’t block you from porting a number over to another provider and they can’t do anything beyond send you a text message.”

Rogers, the parent company of CityNews and this website, does provide the service but states it is always working to develop measures to combat evolving scams.

“We take protecting our customers’ personal information very seriously, and as fraudsters evolve their tactics, we work with other carriers to continually strengthen processes to prevent unauthorized porting, including new protections put in place this past fall,” said a Rogers Wireless spokesperson.

This is the type of fraudulent act that can target anyone, including a 20-year telecom expert who back in October also received the same text message as Burnet. Neeraj Kumar acted quickly, calling his cell phone provider, also taking further steps to prevent his number from being ported.

Kumar tells CityNews that this type of scam is happening more frequently, saying that both telecommunications companies and the CWTA need to implement more measures to strengthen the phone porting process and provide more protections for consumers.

“This is done with the intention of committing a fraud,” Kumar said. “For the last few years, your phone number is your primary two-factor authentication, and that makes this kind of fraud more severe than the credit card fraud.”

The CWTA tells CityNews their members are consistently focused on improving the safety of this process.

“In many cases fraudsters obtain the personal information required to enable a number port in a variety of ways, including phishing campaigns, acquiring personal information from the ‘dark web’ or buying it from organized criminals,” a spokesperson said. “Sometimes they directly socially engineer the victim, or they have a personal relationship with the target and have access to their personal information.”

There are also ways consumers can protect themselves. Kumar suggests that consumers remain vigilant and reach out to their phone companies to get an understanding of what measures are available to prevent this type of fraud, adding that some offer the option of having a passcode associated with your account in the event someone else tries to access your information. Other companies also allow consumers to put a block on the phone porting process.

“Anybody can fall victim to this fraud,” Kumar said. “The CRTC should definitely come up with more stringent rules regarding number porting. There are regulatory practices implemented in certain parts of the world, so I think the CRTC should really take those best practices and try to impose them, considering the impact is much more wide in these types of frauds.”

Burnet tells CityNews that she has filed a report with Toronto Police and is currently in talks with Rogers’ fraud department.

She also took additional measures, putting additional surveillance on her personal financial information in the event the scammers were able to access her data.

“The whole experience is pretty violating, not knowing what they have access to,” Burnet said. “It’s a pretty scary experience and I don’t know if there will be other repercussions down the line that I don’t know about.”

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