Former Verizon Employee Pleads Guilty to Running Massive Phone Scamming Ring

He was part of a gang that hijacked customer accounts, and then used them to route expensive international calls.

Even when hackers are stealing credit card details with malware en masse, and carrying out digital bank heists, there's still money to be made by gaming phone networks. On Monday, a former Verizon employee pleaded guilty to helping run a sophisticated cell phone scam, which involved routing thousands of international calls through hijacked customer accounts.

Farintong Calderon, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; access device fraud; the use, production or possession of modified telecommunications instruments, and the use or possession of hardware or software configured to obtain telecommunications services, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice.

According to the indictment against the group, the conspiracy started sometime way back in August 2009, but kept on going right up to February 2013. In short, the allegedly six-man group, of which Calderon was part, got hold of information such as phone numbers and cell phone serial numbers, and then used these details to access people's accounts. From here, the group could "clone" the victims' phones, charging any calls to a victim's account. (Court documents don't explicitly say whether Calderon obtained data for this scheme in his capacity as a former Verizon employee).

"We have nothing to say about this Joseph. This guy was not an employee when he went bad," Jim Gerace, Verizon's chief communications officer told Motherboard in an email.

Often for calls to international destinations, legitimate contractors route telephone calls on behalf of telecommunications service providers in exchange for a per-minute fee. But in this case, Calderon's co-conspirators used the stolen accounts to traffic thousands of overseas calls at premium rates over the internet, including to Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, and charged them to the victims. According to the Department of Justice press release, Calderon admitted being personally responsible for at least $250,000 in loss resulting from the scheme.

The group would sometimes use the stolen personally identifiable information to impersonate victims and set up new phone accounts, the indictment reads reads. They also used the same sort of information to take over pre-existing accounts, and Calderon along with an alleged co-conspirator also incremented the unique serial number of a phone, replacing one number with another until they stumbled across one that applied to a live account.

"It was the object of the conspiracy for the defendants and others to enrich themselves by charging to route telephone communications and then routing those telephone communications through cellular telephone accounts that they were not authorized to use without paying the cellular telephone carriers for the services they provided," the indictment adds.

Specifically, Calderon worked as a "line supplier;" that is, providing the identifying information associated with victims' "lines" or accounts from Verizon and other companies. According to court records, Calderon was arrested in September of this year.

Edwin Fana and Jose Santana, two of Calderon's co-conspirators, have also pleaded guilty, and are due to be sentenced in December and January respectively. Calderon's sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 2017, court records state.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.