DR. DALE RAGLE, A DALLAS family practice physician, doesn’t have any patients in Alabama, California or Michigan. So, when he saw calls to those states on his cellular phone bill- with a $3,500 balance-he was astonished. “I felt like was caught in the Twilight Zone,” says Ragle, who had just joined the growing ranks of phone fraud victims.
Phone doners use an electronic serial number cloning device that functions something like a radar detector. Sometimes working from a bridge or beside a busy freeway, they point the device at a cell phone or its antenna and absorb the phone’s serial number for implantation into another cell phone. According to Liz Dunn, external affairs manager of AT&T Wireless Services, phone-clone fraud costs $500 million per year nationwide. This new, but quickly growing scam carries a stiff penalty-up to 20 years in prison and a $200,000 fine.
To avoid paying for someone else’s long distance fun, remove the handset and antenna from your car when you are not using your phone, never give your electronic serial number to anyone, don’t leave the phone in an unsafe place (such as the glove compartment of your car), and never let anyone use your phone unless you are present. If your phone is lost or stolen, call the police or your carrier immediately. Remember, phone companies offer limitations on accounts and restrictions on international and long-distance calls, and most of them operate 24-hour hotlines, so they can be informed immediately if there’s a problem-perhaps before that first call to Johannes-burg.