Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Canada's Rogers Communications support terrorist groups

Canada: That is all you can say if you refuse to fix a problem where Hezbollah knows which phones to target and you do nothing about it.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step — and so it was that law professor Susan Drummond's long, strange trip into the world of wireless security, where she learned that a terrorist organization had appropriated Ted Rogers' cellphone number, was launched by the arrival of a phone bill for $12,237.60. ....Since making that call to Rogers last August, Ms. Drummond and her partner, Harry Gefen, have been researching the cellphone giant, yielding some unexpected discoveries, among them that the phones of senior Rogers executives, including Mr. Rogers himself, were repeatedly “cloned” by terrorist groups that used them to make thousands of overseas calls. That bit of information came out at a conference Mr. Gefen attended in September, where he spoke with Cindy Hopper, a manager in Rogers security department, who told him that the phones of top Rogers executives had been the target of repeated cloning by a group linked to Hezbollah. (Cloning involves the duplication of a cellphone's identity by capturing its number and encrypted security code.) Speaking into Mr. Gefen's tape recorder — and unaware that he was an aggrieved customer — Ms. Hopper said terrorist groups had identified senior cellphone company officers as perfect targets, since the company was loath to shut off their phones for reasons that included inconvenience to busy executives and, of course, the public-relations debacle that would take place if word got out. “They were cloning the senior executives repeatedly, because everyone was afraid to cut off Ted Rogers' phone,” Ms. Hopper says on the tape. “They were using actually a pretty brilliant psychology. Nobody wants to cut off Ted Rogers' phone or any people that are directly under Ted Rogers, so they took their scanners to our building, like our north building, where our senior top, top, top executives are. They took their scanners there and also to Yorkville, where there are a lot of high rollers and like it would be a major PR blunder to shoot first and ask questions later. . . . Nobody wants to shut off Ted. Even if he is calling Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Kuwait.”
Then on top of that, they expect the customer to pay for their screwup.
In her statement of claim against Rogers, Ms. Drummond charges that Rogers Wireless knew that something was amiss with her cellphone, yet did nothing to stop it. She notes that she had never made an overseas call with the phone, yet in the month of August, it was used to make more than 300. “Rogers has a systematic, computer-generated program that immediately alerts their fraud department of atypical calling patterns,” she says in one court filing. “. . . In relation to the contract for my cellphone number, Rogers breached its duty of care to prevent fraudulent phone calls being made. . . .” Jan Innes, a vice-president with Rogers Communications, confirmed that the company has an automatic fraud-detection system that flags suspicious calling patterns, but refused to say how it works. “We do not give out information that might help people get around the system,” she said. Ms. Innes said that Rogers has a policy of contacting consumers if fraud is suspected. In some cases, she admitted, phones are shut off automatically, but refused to say what criteria were used. (Ms. Drummond and Mr. Gefen believe that the company bases the decision on a customer's creditworthiness. “If you have the financial history, they let the meter run,” Ms. Drummond said.) Ms. Drummond noted that she has a salary of more than $100,000, and a sterling credit history. “They knew something was wrong, but they thought they could get the money out of me. It's ridiculous.” Ms. Innes denies that charge. “Creditworthiness doesn't enter into it,” she said. Ms. Innes conceded that the hundreds of calls made to foreign hot spots represented a dramatic change in Ms. Drummond's phone usage, but insists that Rogers does not bear responsibility for failing to shut off the service when they couldn't contact her. “That was in the terms of her contract,” she said. “. . . Many of our customers have unusual patterns. It would be onerous if we shut them all down.” In court filings, the company has made it clear that it intends to hold Ms. Drummond responsible for the calls made on her phone. “. . . the plaintiff is responsible for all calls made on her phone prior to the date of notification that her phone was stolen,” the company says. “The Plaintiff's failure to mitigate deprived the Defendant of the opportunity to take any action to stop fraudulent calls prior to the 28th of August 2005.” Ms. Innes said the company has offered to settle the case with Ms. Drummond, but said she has refused. Ms. Drummond confirmed that the company had offered to write off the bill if she pays $2,000, but she has rejected the offer. “I shouldn't have to pay any of this,” she said. “The company knew what was going on. I'm not going to pay them for theft.”

Update# Rogers is forgiving the phone bill and now is trying to recover from the public relations disaster it finds itself in.

It has not been a fun-filled week so far at the corporate offices of Rogers Communications. Since Saturday, senior executives have been operating on what might be described as a war footing as they deal with a public relations debacle touched off by the news that the cellphone of CEO Ted Rogers was cloned by a group linked to Hezbollah. There have been weekend meetings, anguished discussions and phone calls from Mr. Rogers himself to the angry customer whose dispute with the company led to the unwanted revelations. “I've had much better days,” said Rogers vice-president of communications, Jan Innes, yesterday. “This isn't the kind of publicity that any company would want.” Ms. Innes is now leading the charge to restore confidence in the company's security systems — and to restore a corporate image that has taken a wicked beating.

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