Fight cellular cloning with a fraud control system: Electronic fingerprinting is the latest among several technologies for preventing criminals from shifting their long-distance charges to other people’s bills. Secret codes and personal identification num
The number of cellular fraud incidents has been steadily increasing over the past several years. When most people think of cellular fraud, they think of someone placing calls on a stolen cellular phone. Although this is one form of fraud, the most common form is cloning, which accounts for about $650 million in lost revenue for the cellular industry every year.
In an effort to stop cellular cloning, Cellular One has introduced PhonePrint, a new technology that electronically fingerprints cellular phone calls, detecting and disconnecting calls made with stolen telephone numbers. This system will help to stop the fraud.
The electronic fingerprint system is the latest industry technique to stop cloning_the industry term for stealing cellphone numbers and using them to make long-distance calls. Thieves clone cellular numbers by using electronic equipment to record phone numbers transmitted when a legitimate caller uses a cellphone to make a call. Cloners program these numbers into other cellphones and use the modified phones to make long-distance calls. The calls made with the cloned numbers are billed to the legitimate cellular subscriber.
Cellular providers have introduced several anti-cloning techniques. Many of these techniques required callers to dial a personal identification number (PIN) for every cellphone call.
Transparent protection Unlike other fraud prevention systems, the electronic fingerprint system is transparent to customers making calls.
“Our customers don’t have to dial extensive codes each time they place a call,” said Bob Nelson, Cellular One-Chicago president and general manager. “We’re making it easier for our customers to use their phones with greater protection from fraud, and we’re sending a clear signal to criminals to beware_or to be prepared to pay the consequences.”
The electronic fingerprint system uses radio frequency (RF) fingerprinting technology to detect and disconnect calls from cloned cellular phones. The service “fingerprints” the radio signal emitted by cellular phones, uses the signal to differentiate among individual phones and spots cloners within a fraction of a second as they attempt to place calls. When the system detects a clone, it disconnects the call.
[Editor’s Note: Companies that make electronic fingerprinting equipment to foil cellphone cloning are understandably reluctant to explain in detail how that equipment works. Generally speaking, such equipment measures the cellphone’s RF signal amplitude and frequency characteristics when the phone transmits its carrier wave at the beginning of a call.
Manufacturing tolerances vary, giving each cellphone transmitter unique characteristics. One characteristic is the speed and uniformity with which the carrier wave rises from zero power to the selected power, all within a fraction of a second. Another characteristic is the speed and uniformity of the cellphone transmitter’s frequency change from the instant that the call begins, and its frequency synthesizers begin operating, until the frequency becomes stable_once again, within a fraction of a second.
A computer compares the amplitude and frequency characteristics of a cellphone kept on record with those measured each time a cellphone with the same electronic serial number begins a call. If a significant difference is measured, it means that a clone has been detected.]
“Our customers have told us they want increased security to protect them from fraud, and we’re giving it to them today,” said Nelson. “Cellular One continually looks for ways to add value to the serv-ices we provide our customers. We want to ensure that our customers feel safe and secure using their phones without the added threat of fraud. Adding PhonePrint to our existing services provides that type of security.”
Currently, the electronic fingerprint system is being used in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Cellular One also plans to begin deploying the system in its Boston and Washington, D.C.-Baltimore markets.
Mary Ann Byrnes, Corsair president, said the system is rapidly gaining nationwide acceptance. “Cellular One’s adoption of PhonePrint in Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC, is an important step in establishing a network of fraud protection across the country,” said Byrnes. “Our goal is to make it hard for cloners to do business anywhere.”
The electronic fingerprint system, developed by Palo Alto, CA-based Corsair Communications, is the most widely used fingerprinting system today. The system has reduced fraud as much as 85% where it has been deployed.
In 1996, Cellular One was the first wireless phone company in the country to block out cellular thieves with Clone Block secret codes as the first step to eradicate cloning. “We’ve invested in several different cloning detection mechanisms to give our customers a choice,” added Nelson.
The use of secret codes is a proven authentication technology used in wireless networks worldwide. The phone uses secret codes that are never transmitted across the airwaves. When a phone with secret codes is used to place a call, it exchanges a variety of other codes with the network until the secret code is identified. Cellular One tested and refined the use of secret codes for more than a year before the practice was introduced into the marketplace.
“When a call is placed, the phones and the network exchange a variety of codes until the secret code from the CloneBlock phone is identified as legitimate, and the call is sent,” said Nelson. “We think of the process as a secret handshake, and it occurs virtually instantaneously.”
In addition to the electronic fingerprint system and the secret codes, Cellular One offers Secure Dial PINs and Home Only restricted area coverage as free features available to all Cellular One customers. The use of PINs combats cloning by requiring a subscriber to enter a four-digit PIN before a call is made. Restricted area coverage is for subscribers who only use their cellular phones in the Cellular One Home Coverage Area. Restricted area coverage reduces the risk of cellular-roaming fraud.
“Now that there are so many methods of reducing cloning, the airwaves will be cleared for paying customers,” said Nelson. “Our customers will see even better service throughout our coverage area.”
Schaumburg, IL-based Cellular One is the leading wireless service provider to the Chicago, north central Illinois and northwest Indiana areas. Cellular One and its Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems affiliate provide wireless communications to more than 3.8 million customers in 63 service areas throughout the United States.
The company’s market penetration is 10.8%. Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems is the wireless subsidiary within SBC Communications, a diversified telecommunications company.