Two more states are cracking down on the sale of cell phone calling records. Texas said it is opening an "extensive investigation" and Missouri filed suit against one of the companies allegedly selling the records over the Internet.
"This is a serious breach of personal privacy," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "The business of using trickery to obtain consumers' cell phone records amounts to nothing more than the illegal trafficking of private information."
"There are tremendous privacy concerns at stake here," said Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said, who filed suit against Locatecell.com. "The phone records of citizens, companies or anyone else should not be available to whoever has a credit card."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the company last week after Chicago police complained that undercover officers' lives were put at risk by criminals purchasing the officers' cell phone records.
In Missouri, an undercover investigator from Nixon's office initiated an online transaction with Locatecell.com to purchase the records of calls made on his own private cell phone. The investigator received the records a few days later.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are First Data Solutions Inc. and its principal owner, James Kester, of Knoxville, Tenn.; and 1st Source Information Specialists Inc., of Tamarac, Fla., and its director Kenneth W. Gorman, of Jensen Beach, Fla.
According to the defendants' Web site at www.locatecell.com, for $65, anyone may enter a cell phone number and then will receive the name and address of the cell phone user.
For $110, anyone can enter a cell phone number and Locatecell.com will provide a list of calls made from that number. Nixon said the defendants do not have authorization from the wireless and cellular telephone service providers to access the customer information and records that they advertise on their Web site.
"We believe this information has been obtained illegally, and we're asking the court to stop the dissemination of this information," Nixon said.
Texas AG Abbott said he has also contacted cell phone providers regarding the actions they are taking to better safeguard customer information.
Online data marketers promoting the calling record services charge between $50 and $200 for obtaining records of specific cellular phone calls, usually those made over the previous 30 days. Some Web companies falsely tell their customers that these records are public information.
To halt the business practices and to prevent the further spread of these Web sites, Abbott said he was demanding information from several dozen pirate Web companies illegally claiming to have access to private cell phone records for a price. The results of the investigation will determine what legal action may be warranted, he said.
Attorney General Abbott's investigation will also focus on liabilities against those who conduct transactions that open consumers to possible dangers, including possible victims whose information may have fallen into the wrong hands.
Some cell phone users, for example, may seek anonymity because they are protecting themselves from an abusive ex-spouse or a person stalking them. There are also concerns about the release of phone records of officers who work undercover.
What You Can Do
To prevent such abuses, Attorney General Abbott urges consumers to contact their cell phone companies to find out if any party has requested their cell phone records. Otherwise, consumers may have no way of knowing if their privacy has been breached.
Consumers may also request a unique password-protected account through their cell phone companies to prevent others from accessing these records.
The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission are also investigating.