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09/28/2015

UCLA Grad Facing Mobile Fraud Charges


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If you’ve ever received an unsolicited text message on your mobile device, listen up. Turns out, innocent-looking text messages—anything from horoscopes to celebrity gossip—can actually be costing you money. 

Recently, a UCLA graduate named Erdolo Eromo was taken into custody on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering, all shrouded in an elaborate “cramming scheme” costing thousands of unsuspecting mobile users tens of millions of dollars.  

Born in Ethiopia, Eromo studied sociology and played football at UCLA before becoming one the youngest executives to rule the mobile marketing industry. What’s more, the company he came to lead (Payvia) is a progressive leader in consolidating and simplifying online and mobile payments. The proverbial crime scene was set.  

Eromo’s main accomplice, Darcy Webb, is Payvia’s co-founder and lead developer of the company’s carrier-based billing payment strategy. The two face similar charges and are expected to appear in federal courts in New York and Los Angeles. The charges were brought on by the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara in New York

In May, six other men were brought to trial in connection with the scheme. One in particular, Lin Maio, was brought up on civil charges and had nearly $10 million seized in assets. 

 

Understanding Cramming Schemes 

According to the FBI, “cramming schemes” have been a problem on landlines for several years, but with the proliferation of cell phones, the threat has now become a mobile issue.  

Cramming schemes use what’s called local exchange carrier (LEC) billing to unlawfully charge mobile users through their local telephone company accounts rather than through the providers of the product or service. These charges can be for anything from premium messaging services and ringtones to apps or long-distance calling. 

The charges appear on a person’s cell phone bill, usually in amounts so small they go unnoticed. Multiply this by a few hundred thousand people and you’ve got yourself a “cramming scheme.” 

Eromo and Webb were charging almost $10 a month for trivial text messages being sent without the user’s consent. Most of the users ignored the messages and had no idea they were being charged.  

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has some useful tips to help keep you from falling victim to a “cramming shame”. First, they recommend you carefully look over your monthly statement for any unusual activity or extra charges. These may appear as one-time charges or occur monthly. Be weary of generic-sounding fees or services. Words like subscription, member fee, or activation should be viewed with suspicion. 

Unsolicited text messages are a sign you should be reviewing your bill for fraudulent charges. A text from someone you don’t know, or for a service you did not ask for, is a red flag. When it doubt, always call your service provider.

 

Comments

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Nice and educative article. Mobile phone users beware.

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