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A man who spearheaded a seven-year scheme which secretly unlocked 1.9 million AT&T phones, allegedly costing the company over $200 million, was sentenced by a U.S. district court to 12 years in prison.
Muhammad Fahd, a 35-year-old citizen of Pakistan and Grenada, managed to bribe an AT&T employee at its call center in Washington in 2012 to assist him with unlocking customers’ phones in exchange for “significant sums of money,” per Department of Justice.
Under the alias “Frank Zhang,” Fahd coerced the employee into recruiting co-workers, and advising them to set up fake businesses with sham bank accounts, while creating fictitious invoices for every deposit in order to make it appear the money was going somewhere legit. Fahd also accepted payment for getting employees to unlock phones for “ineligible customers.”
In 2013, AT&T attempted to counteract the threat through a system that made it more difficult to unlock phones’ unique IMEI numbers. Fahd hired a software developer to design malware that would be installed on AT&T’s computer system, which resulted in unlocking a larger number of phones at a more efficient rate. His network of AT&T employees provided him with confidential information about the company’s computer systems, as well as unlocking methods. They were tasked with installing malware that would help Fahd obtain additional information about the system, in addition to the credentials of other AT&T employees.
According to Engadget, one insider was paid $428,500 for their help. Fahd allegedly made millions by removing “millions of devices” from AT&T’s service.
Fahd was arrested in Hong Kong in 2018, and extradited to the United States the following year. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud last September.