FCC Slams ATT With $25 Million Fine for Phone Customer Data Breaches

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-04-08 Print this article Print
FCC Fines AT&T

"We hold ourselves and our vendors to a high standard. Unfortunately, a few of our vendors did not meet that standard and we are terminating vendor sites as appropriate. We’ve changed our policies and strengthened our operations. And we have, or are reaching out to affected customers to provide additional information."

The additional information will include a toll-free number for affected customers, free credit monitoring for a year, and official notification. In addition, AT&T will be required to appoint a privacy certified compliance director and to provide annual reports to the FCC on compliance with privacy rules.

A check of the AT&T website shows that the company has revised its rules for unlocking phones so that any phone reported stolen will not be unlocked. The procedures are now similar to the other major wireless carriers, according to the unlocking instructions on their respective websites.

The AT&T action is the FCC's fifth major enforcement over the last year for a total of over $50 million in penalties. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is making it clear that the FCC's new aggressive stance on enforcement is just the beginning.

"As the nation's expert agency on communications networks, the Commission cannot — and will not —stand idly by when a carrier’s lax data security practices expose the personal information of hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Americans to identity theft and fraud," Wheeler said in the press release announcing the penalty.

Unfortunately, there's little recourse for AT&T customers who have had their data breached. They can and should accept AT&T's offer of credit monitoring. Those customers still with AT&T should take additional actions to protect themselves.

Those actions include reporting their devices stolen as quickly as possible so that they can't be unlocked as easily. For customers with phones that have permanent lock out features, such as Apple's Activation Lock, should activate those features as soon as they start using their phones. In addition, customers should lock their phones so that a PIN or fingerprint is required before anyone can access the phone.

While a locked phone won't necessarily prevent a stolen phone from being used unless it's an Apple phone with the Activation Lock Feature, it will still slow the criminals down long enough to perhaps give the owner time to wipe the phone clean of any personal information.

The sad thing is that there's not always a lot that a customer can do when their phone is stolen beyond wiping it of personal information remotely. While phone theft has dropped with the advent of Apple's Activation Lock, not every criminal has gotten the word, so it's still rampant in some areas. But if you take the right precautions, at least your most critical information will be protected.


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