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NEWARK, N.J. � In a wave of federal court suits, Verizon Wireless is attacking the increasing practice of “pretexting,” by which imposters pose as customers to obtain their billing records, calling details and other information. The suits, the most recent of which was filed Tuesday in Newark, do not allege ulterior motives but charge that the defendants accessed customers’ accounts online by entering telephone numbers and other personal data. In Cellco Partnership d/ b/ a Verizon Wireless v. Worldwide Investigations Inc., 06-05792, Verizon alleges violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030 and the New Jersey Computer Related Offenses Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:38A-1, and common law fraud, conversion and civil conspiracy. The suit demands return of wrongly obtained data, compensatory and punitive damages, costs of suit and an injunction against future pretexting. Among the defendants are companies identified by links to e-mail addresses used in the course of pretexting activity. They are Worldwide Investigations of Frederick, Colo., and its officer, John Strange; DWC Research of Tampa, Fla., and its principal, Toni Capen; and SRG/Delphi of Roanoke, Texas, and its officer, John Sloan. Strange, of Worldwide Investigations, has publicly claimed to be able to find personal information on anyone and trades in Social Security numbers, credit card billing statements and telephone billing information. “I can pull miracles out of the air,” Strange said in an Oct. 19, 2003, article in The Boston Globe. To show the vulnerability of personal financial data, the newspaper paid Strange $125 for a TransUnion credit report on Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. A listed phone number for Strange’s company was connected to a fax machine Wednesday. DWC did not have any listed phone number. Strategic Recovery Group did not return a phone message. Verizon seeks leave to take expedited discovery of Internet service providers in order to learn the owners of 50 “John Doe” e-mail accounts discovered to have been used in pretexting activities. Verizon has three other pretexting suits pending in New Jersey. The earliest, Cellco Partnership d/ b/ a Verizon Wireless v. Data Find Solutions Inc., 06-326, filed in January, charges three companies obtained its customer data by such deceptive patterns as making calls on behalf of phony “voice-impaired” customers who speak as if supplying information but cannot be understood due to some mechanical distortion. The case was assigned in July to U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson. Two other suits, filed in September and October, name only John Doe defendants. On Oct. 3, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Hughes gave Verizon Wireless permission to subpoena various non-parties in one of the cases. Verizon’s lawyer, Philip Sellinger of Greenberg Traurig in Florham Park, referred questions to the company. Verizon spokeswoman Debbie Lewis says the primary purpose of the litigation is to protect the security and confidentiality of customer data. The suits also provide vital information about pretexting, which she said the company does not fully understand. Lewis says the company recently settled a pretexting case in a Florida with a nominal payment by the defendant. Charles Toutant is a reporter with the New Jersey Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in Newark.

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