Cellphone industry taking steps to prevent identity theft
Published Monday, January 27, 2020 5:49PM PST Last Updated Monday, January 27, 2020 6:20PM PST
VANCOUVER -- After yet another case of identity theft through phone number porting, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association says the industry is taking steps to make porting more secure.
McLaughlin On Your Side has spoken with multiple victims of phone porting fraud in recent years. In Canada, it’s easy to request to have your phone number moved to another carrier, known as phone porting. And your phone number is often the key to two-factor authentication. That’s something that criminals have taken advantage of, using a ported phone number to reset passwords, gain access to your email and evenually you financial accounts.
It happened to Krystal Ho last year. Thieves got into her PayPal account and started buying expensive merchandise worth thousands of dollars – just how much, she wouldn’t say.
It also happened to Erynn Tomlinson in 2018. She thought she had taken all the necessary steps to protect herself, but still lost more than $30,000 after thieves were able to steal her identity. She said they did it by hijacking her phone number and blames her cellphone provider for not doing a better job to protect her.
It even happened to West Vancouver Police Const. Kevin Goodmurphy, who lost access to his phone last year when the number was ported. He then noticed that tens of thousands of dollars had been moved out of his accounts in both cash and credit. Goodmurphy caught the transaction early enough that he was able to call and cancel – otherwise he would have lost thousands.
And most recently, Saskatchewan farmers Andrew and Laurie Johnson had their farm operations account drained after one of their family phones was ported and thieves were able to gain access to their money.
They’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and aren’t sure if the losses will be covered.
So what is the wireless industry doing to prevent these kinds of cases?
Jeremy Sawatzky, a spokesperson for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, said Monday that protections are on the way.
“The industry is currently in the midst of making changes to the number porting process, some of which have already been implemented. Due to the degree of effort and technical work required to enable all of these changes, they will be rolled out in phases. We do not publicize these measures, as doing so might give criminals information they can use to try to circumvent them,” he told CTV News Vancouver in a statement.
“Fraudsters are constantly evolving techniques to try and take advantage of consumers, (so) our members are continually strengthening their security measures and verification procedures.”
Some ideas that have been floated by some companies include allowing customers to place PIN protection on their mobile account to prevent their number from being moved, or notifying people via text and requiring them to respond before their number is ported to a new phone.
U.S. carriers have had to deal with cellular account hijiacking and put protection measures in place several years ago.
But it’s too late for those changes to help previous victims. The Johnsons says they’ve reported their case to the RCMP and are now getting back to work, hoping their money will be returned.