Mobile porting threat
New scam a potential goldmine
ON A Monday morning at 11.02am Sydney woman Lisa Johnston answered the phone with the same greeting she always does.
“Hello, Lisa speaking,” she said. But the caller immediately hung up. It was a bit strange, but she got on with her day.
At 6.59pm that night she received a text message from Optus, telling her that her mobile number had been ported across to a different carrier, or more accurately stolen by someone wanting to ransack her bank account.
The message urged her to call the company if she didn’t request for the number to be ported out.
“I couldn’t even contact them through my mobile because I’d lost service,” she told news.com.au. “I called literally two minutes (later), as soon as it happened.”
But the damage was done and she quickly received notifications from her Netbank app confirming transactions she didn’t make.
“Pretty much immediately I had $1000 taken out of my Netbank account and another $180 through BPay to buy a Telstra prepaid card or something,” she said.
Ms Johnston, 34, owns a marketing agency in Drummoyne, Sydney, called Chatter Brand Experience and has a number of business accounts used for clients and staff. She had to freeze all of them, as well as her personal bank accounts to prevent further theft.
She spent all Monday night on the phone trying to stem the damage done to her business and get her mobile number back, which had been moved across to Vodafone.
It can take surprisingly little information to port-out a mobile number to a different carrier. Ms Johnston was told by an Optus staff member that it only requires someone’s name, address and date of birth to move a number across.
Many victims report having had their mail stolen, an easy way for fraudsters to get the details they need like names and account numbers.
It’s a typical tactic for fraudsters to port-out the number at the close of business hours, particularly on a Friday afternoon, making it more difficult for victims to contact the necessary customer services and halt the process, giving the fraudster time to exploit their window of opportunity.
“These people are professionals,” Ms Johnston said, remarking on what felt like a clinical takeover of her accounts by criminals.
“I am furious with Optus and Vodafone for not doing more thorough security checks, as the money that was taken is to pay my mortgage for the month.”
Despite it being somewhat of a blind spot for telcos, they’ve been slow to act and introduce tougher default measures to mitigate against the threat of illegal porting.
Dr Terry Goldsworthy is a former detective inspector for the Queensland police who now works as an assistant professor at Bond University. He began researching the prevalence of illegal porting early last year but says reliable data is almost non-existent.
In April last year the NSW police created a phone porting category for complaints, however if they do get reported to police or consumer bodies most cases typically get filed as instances of generic fraud.
“The actual offence numbers are getting diluted,” Dr Goldworthy said.
“I’m sure it’s happening more than we know.”
BLIND SPOT: It can take surprisingly little information for fraudsters to port-out a mobile number.