AT&T Wireless Fixes Privacy Loophole for 92 Million Phones

Anybody could shut off your service

By Tim Minton and Ozzie Martinez
|  Saturday, Nov 20, 2010  |  Updated 10:01 AM EDT
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Cell phone customers have security concerns

Cell phone customers have security concerns

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AT&T acknowledged Friday that it's closing a security loophole affecting all 92 million U.S. cell phone customers. The revelation came two days after NBCNewYork raised questions about why anyone could suspend service to any of the company's cell phone accounts, in many cases with no questions asked.

"Sometimes it would happen to us four times in one day," said Danielle Henriques of Oyster Bay, NY. She and boyfriend Jason Blundell, 24, suspect an ex-girlfriend of his was harassing the couple by getting their service turned off.   "Sometimes it would happen two days in a row, three days, four days, sometimes it would just be my phone, sometimes it would just be her phone and I think most of the time it was both," said Blundell.

"She's very jealous. she's very upset that I've been in the picture and has basically been trying to cause problems between (me and Jason). and this is just too far," said Henriques.

A spokesperson for AT&T Wireless confirmed that service on the couple's cell phones was suspended a combined 14 times in roughly three weeks. "It's rare to see activity like this," said Alexa Kaufman, AT&T's northeast regional director of communications.  

It's a coincidence, the spokeswoman added, that the company is changing policy so soon after the problems were brought to its attention.

Until now, disconnection for a supposedly lost or stolen phone was made "as easy as possible. Anybody could call in and request suspension, said Kaufman. "Moving forward, customers will need to be able to verify ownership of the account using the last four digits of their social security number or a password," said the spokeswoman.

It's the same kind of privacy protection already extended to customers of the three other major cell carriers, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Compounding their frustration in recent weeks, Blundell's and Henriques' service has repeatedly been shut off on the company's automated system in early evening, after AT&T's customer service center was closed for the night. That meant they were unable to restart it until operators returned to the call center up to 12 hours later. "It's been a  disgrace with AT&T enabling harassment," said Henriques.

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