March 14, 2006

California sues over sale of cell phone records

SAN FRANCISCO -- The state of California filed a $10 million lawsuit on Tuesday against an online firm that offers private cell phone numbers for sale.

Data Trace USA, which is based in Florida, advertises a same-day ability to find cell phone numbers for $79.95. They require the cell phone holder's Social Security number, address and name.

The suit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, alleges the company unlawfully obtains the numbers by misrepresenting their intentions to phone companies. The legal filing seeks an end to the practice.

"Defendants then deceptively obtain consumer account information by various means, including misrepresenting themselves to the consumer's telecommunications carrier as an agent of the consumer, as someone calling on the consumer's behalf or at times even as the consumer," the lawsuit said.

The state of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the same company last month.

"Data Trace has used fraudulent means to commit outrageous invasions of privacy against California cell phone users," said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. "Unfortunately, this company is not alone. These shady operators are increasing in number."

The company did not respond to an e-mail request for reaction. "We conduct our searches using well-known private investigative techniques that are available to licensed private investigators only," the firm says on its Web site.

The issue of private cell phone numbers and records for sale has attracted growing attention in recent weeks, and Congress is debating proposed legislation to ban the practice altogether.