Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Anonymous Caller? New Service Says, Not Any More

Advocates need to make survivors aware of the potential problems if this is used by their abuser. Prepaid cell phones are the most secure if a caller does not wish to be found. On the other hand, this could be a valuable tool for stalking victims who need to validate harrassment for court purposes.

By Kevin Poulsen February 16, 2009
A new service set for launch Tuesday allows cellphone users to unmask theCaller ID on blocked incoming calls, obtaining the phone number, and insome cases the name and address, of the no-longer-anonymous caller. The service, called <> TrapCall, is offered by NewJersey's TelTech systems, the company behind the controversial SpoofCardCaller ID spoofing service. The new service is likely to be even morecontroversial - and popular. "What's really interesting is that they've totally taken the privacy out ofCaller ID," says former hacker Kevin Mitnick, who alpha-tested the service. TrapCall's basic unmasking service is free, and includes the option ofblacklisting unwanted callers by phone number. It also allows you to listento your voicemail over the web. It's currently available to AT&T andT-Mobile subscribers, with support for the other major carriers due withinweeks, says TelTech president Meir Cohen. <>Logobeta"It' s not meant for spies, it's not meant for geeks, it's not meantfor any specific target audience," Cohen says. "Everybody hates gettingblocked calls, and in this day and age they want to know who's calling, andthey want the option of taking the call or not." Consumers have had the option of shielding their number from display sinceCaller ID was introduced in the early 1990s, either by dialing *-6-7 beforeplacing a call, or asking their carrier for blanket anonymity for theirline. But TrapCall takes advantage of a loophole in Caller ID blockingthat's long benefited corporate phone customers: Namely, calls to toll-freenumbers are not blocked, because those calls are paid for by the recipient. TrapCall instructs new customers to reprogram their cellphones to send allrejected, missed and unanswered calls to TrapCall's own toll-free number. Ifthe user sees an incoming call with Caller ID blocked, he just presses thebutton on the phone that would normally send it to voicemail. The callinvisibly loops through TelTech's system, then back to the user's phone,this time with the caller's number displayed as the Caller ID. The caller hears only ringing during this rerouting, which took about sixseconds in's test with an iPhone on AT&T. Rejecting the call asecond time, or failing to answer it, sends it to the user's standardvoicemail. <> Step1Theservice comes as bad news to advocates for domestic violence victims, whofought hard to make free blocking an option in the early days of Caller ID."I have huge concerns about that," says Cindy Southworth, director oftechnology at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in Washington,D.C. Southworth fears that abusers will use the new service to locatepartners fleeing a violent relationship. In a notable case in 1995, a Texas man named Kevin Roberson shot hisex-girlfriend to death after locating her through the Caller ID device onher roommate's phone line. The problem is serious, because domestic violence victims who've fled anabusive relationship often have to stay in contact with their abuser byphone, particularly in situations where the former couple share custody oftheir children," Southworth says. "The judge will require that the victim contact the offender to discusswhere they're dropping the children off, for example," says Southworth. "Andthere's often court-mandated phone contact between the abusive partner andthe victim." In those cases the victims often rely on Caller ID blocking tokeep their former partner from knowing where they're living. Cohen dismisses that concern, arguing that Caller ID blocking was neversecure to begin with. "It's very simple for somebody to forward a phone toan 800 number in their office, and right there, they're picking up the phonenumber of the person who is calling," he says. At least now the falseillusion of Caller ID privacy will be dispelled by TrapCall, he adds. <> Step3Inaddition to the free service, branded Fly Trap, a $10-per-month upgradecalled Mouse Trap provides human-created transcripts of voicemail messages,and in some cases uses text messaging to send you the name of the caller -information not normally available to wireless customers. Mouse Trap willalso send you text messages with the numbers of people who call while yourphone was powered off, even if they don't leave a message. With the $25-a-month Bear Trap upgrade, you can also automatically recordyour incoming calls, and get text messages with the billing name and streetaddress of some of your callers, which TelTech says is derived fromcommercial databases. TelTech is no stranger to controversy. Its <>Spoofcard product lets customers send any phone number they want as theirCaller ID. Among other things, the<> spoofingservice has been used by thieves to activate stolen credit cards, by hackersto access celebrities' voicemail boxes, and by telephone hoaxsters to stagea dangerous prank called<> "swatting,"in which they spoof an enemy's phone number while calling the police with afake hostage situation. The goal of swatting - realized in hundreds of casesaround the country - is to send armed cops bursting into the victim's home. Cohen's company has cooperated in law enforcement investigations ofSpoofcard abuse, which have led to several prosecutions and convictions.Despite the spoofing-linked crimes, he insists that most Spoofcard users arejust privacy-conscious consumers, including celebrities, governmentofficials, private investigators and even spousal abuse victims andshelters. He also expects his new business will be good for his old one. "The only way to block your number after this is released is to useSpoofcard," he says with a laugh.

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