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EQUIPMENT DONATED TO SECRET SERVICE TO BATTLE FRAUD

WASHINGTON-The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association donated $50,000 worth of advanced telecommunications testing equipment to the U.S. Secret Service as part of an ongoing industry-government effort to crack down on wireless telephone fraud by small hackers and organized crime alike.

The high-tech gear will be used in the Secret Service’s new forensic analysis laboratory in the nation’s capital. Secret Service personnel are being trained to analyze cloned phones in the field and to preserve the handsets as evidence.

Cellular fraud, whereby customers’ telephone numbers are stolen and reprogrammed into other phones, cost the industry nearly $500 million dollars last year, CTIA said. Cellular carriers, which do not charge subscribers for calls illegally made by others, must absorb the losses.

A total of 161 cellular fraud arrests were made last year, according to the Secret Service, and almost as many in 1995 already. Most of the arrests have resulted in convictions.

A new law passed by Congress last year makes wireless fraud a federal crime, subject to up to 15 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. The Secret Service previously depended on a credit-card statute to prosecute hackers.

Most of the 25 million cellular phones today use analog technology, which is more susceptible to fraud than next-generation digital technology.

“This partnership is critical if we’re going to be successful in catching and pursuing the high-tech criminal,” said Eljay Bowron, director of the Secret Service. In addition to giving it more firepower, Eljay said industry assistance better positions the Secret Service to aid state and local law enforcement officials in the fight against wireless fraud. Officials, he noted, also try to identify systemic weakness that might perpetuate illegal activity.

“Wireless fraud is a crime and wireless fraud is the enabler of other crimes,” said Thomas Wheeler, president of CTIA, citing drug trafficking as one example.

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