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Man's 'new' phone has old customer data

Posted July 14, 2010

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— He does some work on his laptop, but Giovanni Masucci's must-have work tool is his Blackberry Bold.

So, when it stopped working recently, Masucci cellular phone provider, AT&T, referred him to an authorized support center in Cary for a replacement.

He said he left with a phone that the service representative said was new, but when he got home, he realized quite the contrary.

"I found pictures on there, which was remarkable, because there were pictures that were not my pictures," he said. "So, then I started scrolling through, and I found a driver's license number, a Social Security number, and what looked like credit card numbers in there."

A digital forensics examiner who is skilled at recovering data from computers, cell phones and network servers, Masucci found 44 photos and 132 contacts belonging to another customer who visited the Cary support center the same day as him.

The phone's owner said the support representative transferred data from his old phone to a replacement phone, but that he decided not to take the replacement phone.

It was given to Masucci three hours later.

"I'm thinking, it's a good thing it got into my hands, versus getting into someone else's hands, where they could have used this for identity theft," Masucci said.

Blackberry Man's 'new' phone has old customer data

Gretchen Schultz, a spokeswoman for AT&T, says Masucci's case is a "rare and unusual occurrence."

"We have protocols and practices in place, to protect customer data, which we closely follow and expect our vendors to adhere to as well," she said in a statement.

Still, it offers cell phone users a reminder that they need to be concerned with what happens to their phones when they decide to recycle, replace or exchange them.

AT&T is still investigating, but in Masucci's case, Schultz said it's likely that he was given a refurbished, or "like new," phone that had been tested and inspected to ensure like-new quality.

Phones traded in or returned are wiped clean before they're given to customers, Schultz said.

"The machine we use to clear information from phones does not store information, therefore, data would not be transferred to other phones," she said.

Personal information, such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and driver's licenses numbers, are never stored on a phone and in Masucci's case, the user likely entered the information on his phone after buying it.

Even with the policies in place, she says customers should remember these tips before exchanging or returning a phone:

  • Terminate your service.
  • Clear the phone's memory of contacts, photos and other data beforehand. The site www.recyclewirelessphones.com provided details on how to do so.
  • Remove the phone's SIM card, if it has one.
  • If your phone dies, ask a customer representative to wipe the phone clean in your presence.

This story is closed for comments.

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  • Lyle Jul 15, 2010

    "Who in the world uses AT&T anymore, unless you want an iPhone?"

    LOL AT&T is the second largest carrier (subscriber based) in the US, with 87 million customers, second only to Verizon Wireless which was number 2 until last year and it acquired Alltel.

    AT&T is also the largest provider regarding revenue (the richest).

    A little research goes a long way. Not letting AT&T off the hook for the story though. I have them and their customer service can really fail badly.

  • epalmatier Jul 15, 2010

    If your phone dies, as in unable to turn on, most corporate carrier locations wouldn't be able to wipe any data. There needs to be power to the circuitry to do that. If it can't turn on, there's no power there anyway. Only a rare set of phones will actuate without battery power, such as newer LG phones.

  • Mugu Jul 15, 2010

    Who in the world uses AT&T anymore, unless you want an iPhone?

  • missy01 Jul 15, 2010

    glad his facebook password wasn't on there...wow, that could have been dangerous.

  • superman Jul 15, 2010

    If you get a phone from a phone store, you have every expectation that it will be new and you would not probably think to ask a direct question-- "Is this phone new or used". I was not aware that phone stores sold or dealth with "used" phones.

  • ConcernedNCC Jul 15, 2010

    The phone was still new. It hadn't been sold to anybody, only information downloaded before the previous customer decided to walk out on it. It's like saying a new car that someone else test-drove is used.

  • shortcake53 Jul 15, 2010

    Technology can be a scary thing. Too much info floating around out there.........

  • IMHO05 Jul 14, 2010

    I can only imagine how many people think they are getting a new replacement and get a cell phone providers "new" phone. This is a rip off! I do not trust these places.

  • butterpie Jul 14, 2010

    I wonder how often this really happens. I've also received a replacement phone, and though I wasn't told it was new, it did have someone else's contacts still in it. Mine wasn't with AT&T.