A new crime trend: Thieves ordering cell phones on your wireless account

Posted at 4:17 PM, Apr 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-13 20:02:44-04

Stolen personal information and hijacked mobile phone accounts are both behind rising crime nationwide and in Greater Cleveland.  

"It's not as difficult as we would like to think it is," Detective Mark Miller with Fairview Park police told News 5.

Detective Miller isn't talking about a common thief who steals the phone you use every day. These clever criminals use fake IDs and pretend to be someone else.

"They are actually stealing the identity of some people," he said.

The crooks steal phones using mobile accounts, someone's personal bank information or phony accounts, just by walking into a mobile provider.

"I need a new iPhone, mine broke. And I would also like to purchase some for my kids."

That's what they'll claim, according to Detective Miller. 

A victim gets the bill and the crook usually sells the phones.

It happened just this past week in Fairview Park. The woman they caught had four different fake IDs and four fake credit cards on her.

RELATED: Banking on your smartphone? Never do this

In another case, Fairview detectives investigated two men who traveled here just to hit up three different cities.

Police linked them to $65,000 in theft across the Midwest.

"Turns out they were shipping the phones to the Middle East," Detective Miller said. 

News 5 got in touch with an AT&T customer who got a text about an account change. Twenty minutes later the phone shut off.

Thieves were using their number after hijacking their account.

According to the FTC, complaints about crimes like this are up and while wireless companies are doing everything they can to prevent it, with increased security options for customers, police say you need to take action too.

"Any security you can set up with your internet company and your phone company. Use password protection," Detective Miller said.

The four main providers offer different forms of protection:

AT&T offers extra security in the form of a passcode. You can add one on your online account or through their app.

Sprint customers can set up a PIN with security questions once they start service with the carrier.

Verizon customers, like Sprint, can set up a PIN within their account. The PIN can be added online, with customer service, or through a visit to a retail location.

T-Mobile customers can set up passwords on their accounts by working with customer service.