2 charged in theft of cell-phone numbers Pilfering of 80,000 in N.Y. is largest in the nation

July 02, 1996|By NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- Two people have been arrested by Secret Service agents and New York City police for allegedly stealing 80,000 cellular-phone numbers, the largest such theft in U.S. history.

Abraham Romy, 45, and Irina Bashkavich, 39, both of New York City, used sophisticated equipment to pilfer the numbers from vehicles on the Belt Parkway outside their apartment window, said Brian Gimlett, the head of the Secret Service in New York.

If all the numbers had been illegally cloned into other phones by Romy, an Israeli immigrant, and Bashkavich, a Russian immigrant, they could have resulted in a loss of up to $80 million in illegal calls, Gimlett said.

Previous cases around the country have involved the theft of as many as 40,000 numbers.

Romy's apartment, where Bashkavich apparently had been staying, was "the ideal location to steal cellular phone numbers both because of the heavy traffic and because of the proximity to Kennedy Airport, which encouraged the use of cell phones," Gimlett said.

Cellular telephones use over-the-air coded transmissions to deliver phone service.

The stealing of cellular phone numbers and their illegal transfer into other cell phones has become a booming industry, costing phone companies hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Even New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has had his cellular phone number stolen and used illegally in recent years.

Gimlett said that in addition to a list of the illegally obtained phone numbers, including ones from drivers from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the two also possessed equipment to convert phones to use the illegal phone numbers.

Gimlett said the potential loss to area telephone carriers was based on industry estimates that each illegally cloned phone runs up $1,000 in illegal calls before it is put out of service.

Owners of cloned phones are not responsible for the fraudulently made calls.

The computer equipment in the apartment could pick up the three numbers that a cellular phone uses -- the telephone company carrier code, the telephone number itself and the security PIN number, Gimlett said.

PIN numbers were recently added to many cellular telephones to make them harder to use illegally and have been considered more difficult to obtain by thieves using computers, Gimlett said.

Romy was arraigned Friday in federal District Court in Brooklyn on a charge of possessing illegal access devices and was held without bail.

Bashkavich was arraigned on a similar charge and released yesterday on $100,000 bail.

If convicted, both could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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