Friday, January 13, 2006

About those "untraceable" cell phones...

ABC News broke a story that should be alarming on several fronts. It seems Wal*Mart has reported a sudden surge in sales of pre-paid cell phones. Using cash, someone can buy said phones and their identity remains a secret.

Well, I have some questions and maybe the ABC News reporter can answer them.

First, why are these cell phones suddenly so attractive for buyers (reportedly of Middle Eastern and Pakistani descent)? Could it be that someone leaked to the New York Times, which in turn decided to print the story, that the NSA (and George W. Bush) were eavesdropping on conversations? Perhaps this egregious breach in national security should be investigated. I sense the leak is serious enough to warrant charges of treason.

Next, those phones. Yes, you can pay cash for them. But does that make the user "anonymous?" Well, if you can buy the phone and use it immediately, it does. Now, reading the report on the internet (, I didn't see a brand name of phone, per se. A term "tracfone" was used, but was it used in a generic sense or as the name of a brand? Since I happen to own a TracFone, I know for a fact that this particular phone requires the purchaser to go to the TracFone web site and register the phone before the bank of minutes will be activated and the phone number for that phone given. Until this happens, the phones will not work. Unless the people buying them in bulk have a way to modify the phones to bypass the registration.

A local talk show host brought up the security issue this morning. I called to point out another issue--the fact the phones need to be registered to be activated. Could it be that identities are stolen in order to activate these phones? I found it somewhat interesting that Packer QB Brett Favre's identity had been pilfered and used for nefarious schemes and was reported in yesterday's news. Identity theft is all too common. I'd hate to have the FBI or other government agency knocking on my door because someone stole my identity and used it to register such a phone.

Of course the screener started arguing with me that these phones are paid for with cash and do not need to be activated. He rudely cut me off (I'll write the station manager and express my opinion). Anyway, I decided to do some research. Is it possible to buy a phone you can immediately use and not have to activate without giving some sort of identity?

I did a quick google of pre-paid (Google immediately asked, "Did you mean 'prepaid'?") programs. Besides TracFone there are about a half dozen prepaid phones and numerous prepaid phone cards. But every site I visited required an on-line activation of the phone or card.

So at lunch I took my research one step further. I stopped at the local Wal*Mart. There are, at this Wal*Mart, three different prepaid phones available. I read the details on all three. All three required an activation of some sort, usually through the internet.

So, which is scarier--that potential terrorists are using prepaid phones to try to avoid detection?

Or that in order to use these phones, and avoid detection, they may be stealing the identities of innocent Americans?

I would like to see a more in-depth report on this whole subject. As of now the ABC report on Google is 23 hours old. A more recent posting on the subject is 7 hours old--but the author wants to deny that we are even in a war.


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lilsweetie2043 said...

to tell u the truth..u do not need to activate anything when buying a TracFone. all they ask is the serial numbers they provided, a zip code, another phone number to reach you..and the option of puttin in ur bday or not. no online activation is required. simply got to use another phone to activate it.

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