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For sale: your calling records

For sale: your calling records

I'm always a bit skeptical when I see a news headline screaming that nefarious types can now invade your privacy through your cell phone. So when Katie Couric started babbling about that very thing on NBC's Today Show this morning, I paid attention only halfheartedly at first. But this time around, it seems Ms. Couric wasn't just being paranoid.

Your calling records are the target this time, as the Federal Communications Commission is investigating several Web sites that are offering cell phone numbers and their calling records for as little as $110. Provided you have a credit card and a cell phone number, you can find out who has called that cell phone and who it has called. It appears the Web sites are gathering the information by calling carriers and posing as regulators, customers, or employees--a practice called pretexting. Typically, all the jerks need is the four digits of a subscriber's social security number, which are easily obtainable from other Web sites for a few more dollars.

Although suspicious spouses may think this is a good way to catch a partner suspected of philandering, it's ringing alarm bells all the way to Capitol Hill. And rightfully so, as whom you call is your business and no one else's. In response, three senators introduced a bill today that would make it illegal to pose as someone else when calling a carrier or for an employee to see consumer data. Carriers have also taken steps of their own. Last Friday, Cingular slapped a restraining order against Locatecell.com, a Web site that clearly states that it sells phone records. Of course, all this legal wrangling will take some time to accomplish something, but you can take action in the meantime. First, call your carrier and ask them to protect your account with a PIN number instead of a social security number. And second, visit sites such as Locatecell.com and give them a piece of your mind.