Cell Phone Fraud: Crooks target local company

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Petersburg business owner calls 12 after crooks use his company's name to open up fraudulent accounts at cell phone stores. He fond out about the fraud when he received a huge bill in the mail. He wanted to know how this could happen and so did we, so investigated.

Allen Marshall, owner of Chesdin Automotive and Collision in Petersburg, got quite the surprise when he opened bills from Verizon and AT&T. One bill was for nearly a thousand dollars. In all, there were thousands of dollars in charges but there was a big problem, none of those charges were his.

"Seven phones from AT&T nine from Verizon," Marshall said.

Marshall says crooks walked into a Verizon and AT&T store bought the phones and opened up accounts using his companies name. He was shocked this could happen and wondered if this was a bigger problem and if there were more victims.

"That is what worries me. If is that easy to walk into two cell phone companies, 40 miles from here and acquire five thousand dollars worth of phones and open up 16 lines, what else can somebody do with this," said Marshall.

He says not only did the criminals open up these account using an out of state driver's license but he says they also used a fake Tax ID. We reached out to both phone companies involved to get some answers. Neither wanted to go on camera but instead provided statements. AT&T says, "To help safeguard our security measures, we do not detail them publicly. This issue has been resolved, but serves as a good reminder for all of us to protect our personal information."

Verizon says, "We take our customer's privacy and security very seriously. We are aware that individuals fraudulently gained access to this company's account using information about the company that should not have been in their possession. We identified and flagged the account for fraud within days, and as soon as the fraud was identified, the account was flagged and closed. The company was never charged and nothing was sought to be collected from the company. We continue to investigate the incident, and we will work to prevent any similar situations in the future."

"It was so much easier for the criminal to go in and get the telephones than it is for the honest person to go back and repair the damage that's been done after it happens," Marshall explained.

While neither of the phone companies went into detail about their security efforts to prevent similar crimes, Henrico police offer business these tips to help protect customers: verify customer information, ask to see business identification and a driver's license and if you suspect a customer is involved in fraud -- get a license plate number.

"I think an apology would be nice. I am not looking for anything monetarily, I just want to make sure it never happens again," Marshall said.

For other consumers, your best option is to constantly monitor your credit report and accounts. Marshall has taken all the necessary steps to make sure his credit is clean and those fraudulent accounts are closed. Another tip for business to help protect your customers, police say trust your instincts. If something seems out of place, take extra steps to ensure the transaction is legit.

Also, AT&T has announced the completion of the second phase of its stolen phone database, which enables customers to report and block stolen wireless devices. AT&T is now able to share data on stolen phones with other GSM carriers, allowing a reported stolen phone to be disabled on AT&T's network.

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