AT&T sales reps accused of scheming to unlock phones

19 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

AT&T Employees Installed Malware on Their PCs to Aid Phone Unlocking Service.

AT&T has filed a lawsuit against 3 former call center employees, accusing them of installing malware on their servers with the purpose of aiding a phone unlocking service obtain AT&T unlock codes.Back in 2013, a company called Swift Unlocks would have been one of your best bets if you wanted to unlock your AT&T-branded phone through the sales of unlock codes.AT&T has accused three employees of a scheme: taking money to secretly install malware that unlocked hundreds of thousands of phones without permission.

The company would sell unlock codes for anything from an iPhone to a Fire Phone, letting AT&T customers wriggle out of their contracts long before the subsidy was paid off. The company’s lawsuit against the employees, first reported on by Geekwire, has eight defendants, including Swift Unlocks, the California company accused of masterminding the entire plan. Consumers are legally allowed to request that their carrier unlock their phones — once they’ve been paid off in full — so that the phone can then be connected to a competing carrier’s network. These phones are usually locked, so customers won’t be able to jump ship to another carrier without fully paying for the phone or by finishing their contract. According to the lawsuit, former AT&T employees Marc Sapatin, Nguyen Lam, and Kyra Evans, who worked at an AT&T call center in Washington back in 2013, were approached by Swift Unlocks.

Sapatin and Evans would be paid at least $10,000 by the company between April and October of 2013, according to Prashant Vira, who operates Swift Unlocks, so long as they agreed to install a remote access tool, which would allow Swift Unlocks to instantaneously have access to any unlock code. But carriers are not obligated to unlock them except in certain circumstances, such as when customers have paid off their contracts or device financing plans.

As GeekWire reports, Sapatin, one of the three employees involved with the scheme, also tried to recruit a fourth, bragging that this scheme includes many people across the country, including other carriers outside AT&T. The website asks for a select fee to unlock certain line of devices and carriers though AT&T is questioning how Swift Unlock was able to obtain these codes. Smartphones are “locked” into carriers, forcing customers who buy a phone for one provider stick with that company if they don’t want to buy another phone. The company first noticed the scheme when it saw a noticeable uptick in the number of unlock requests issued by two call-center employees, often within milliseconds of each other. The lock lasts at least until the customers’ initial contract is up and, even then, a lift on the lock must be specifically requested by the customer.

The carrier, the nation’s second largest, says the defendants created a software program that allowed an external server to issue unlock permissions to AT&T phones. Unfortunately for the accused, those requests were still being made under their own employee codes, so the company quickly traced the new requests back to them. “It’s important to note that this did not involve any improper access of customer information, or any adverse effect on our customers,” an AT&T spokesman told The Verge. Things didn’t stop there, however, as Sapatin allegedly tried to bring other AT&T employees into the fold, with Sapatin telling one employee “that she would make $2,000 every two weeks through her participation in the Unlock Scheme,” wrote AT&T.

During the same period, AT&T was hacked by a criminal organization looking to unlock stolen phones before selling them, a breach that also resulted in a $25 million fine from the FCC. The malware allowed commands to be issued from a remote, unauthorized server and used “valid customer service personnel identification numbers” to process automated unlock requests without proper authorization, AT&T wrote. Early versions of the malware “gathered confidential and proprietary information regarding AT&T’s internal applications and computer systems and transmitted that information to John Doe Defendants 1-50 through the remote server,” AT&T said. “The John Doe Defendants used that information to adjust the malware to specifically facilitate the hacking of [AT&T’s customer service] application and then sent revised malware files to Evans for installation.” These John Doe defendants also re-sold fraudulently unlocked phones, AT&T alleged.

The alleged scheme is similar to others “in which illegal operators buy or steal large quantities of phones (prepaid or with term contracts), unlock them, and resell them in foreign markets that do not subsidize the devices,” AT&T wrote. AT&T is seeking financial damages in an amount to be determined at trial, and injunctions preventing the defendants from continuing the alleged activity. UPDATE: After this published, AT&T sent Ars a statement, saying, “We’re seeking damages and injunctive relief from several people who engaged in a scheme a couple of years ago to illegally unlock wireless telephones used on our network.

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