FTC wants 'pretexting' banned

The move is fallout from the HP boardroom scandal

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today said it has asked a federal court in Florida to permanently ban telephone "pretexting" -- the practice of obtaining phone records under false pretenses.

Pretexting entered the national lexicon last year when news broke that the Hewlett-Packard Co. board of directors had hired investigators to locate the source of several leaks to the media. According to California's then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer, HP obtained phone records of board members as well as others, including reporters, using pretexting.

Targeted in the complaint filed with the court by the FTC were several people involved in that scandal, including Matthew DePante, a principal of Action Research Group, in Melbourne, Fla., and Bryan Wagner, a Colorado investigator.

Wagner pleaded guilty in January to federal felony charges of conspiracy and aggravated identity theft; in return, he is to testify against others in a California state court. DePante is one of four who still face charges there.

Pretexting violates the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FTC argued, and is illegal.

"To obtain information, defendants have used or have caused others to use, false pretenses, fraudulent statements, fraudulent or stolen documents or other misrepresentations, including posing as an account holder or as an employee of the telecommunications carrier," the FTC's complaint read. "Defendants have sold the confidential customer phone records that they have obtained to their clients or others."

The agency asked the court to ban the practice of pretexting and force the defendants to give up any money they were paid for their work.

In December, HP reached an agreement with Lockyer to settle potential civil charges. As part of the settlement, HP agreed to pay $14.5 million to a state law enforcement fund. However, former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn still faces state criminal charges in California for her part in the case, as does Kevin Hunsaker, the company's former ethics chief.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon