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AT&T's phone-unlocking ringleader gets locked upAT&T's phone-unlocking ringleader gets locked up

Muhammad Fahd sentenced to 12 years in prison for unlawfully unlocking nearly 2 million phones in scam costing AT&T more than $200 million.

Ken Wieland

September 22, 2021

2 Min Read
AT&T's phone-unlocking ringleader gets locked up

Muhammad Fahd is facing 12 years behind bars after orchestrating a seven-year phone unlocking ruse that cost AT&T over $200 million.

The details of Fahd's underhand dealings, which stretch back to 2012, were laid out in a statement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

It was a grim reminder for AT&T's top brass on the scale of damage – not only because Fahd was able to dodge getting caught for so long, but also that he managed to rope in some AT&T employees to help him out.

Figure 1: Left unlocked: AT&T estimated that Fahd unlocked a staggering 1.9 million phones over the course of the scam. (Source: AT&T) Left unlocked: AT&T estimated that Fahd unlocked a staggering 1.9 million phones over the course of the scam.
(Source: AT&T)

US District Judge Robert S Lasnik, at the sentence hearing, said Fahd – a citizen of Pakistan and Grenada – had committed a "terrible cybercrime over an extended period."

Neither was he impressed that Fahd had continued with his illegal money-making scheme even after becoming aware that law enforcement was on his case.

Money drain

The reason why AT&T was so out of pocket is that users of illegally unlocked phones are removed from its network, depriving the operator of instalment fees due on the device as well as money from services.

AT&T's "forensic analysis" showed the total number of cellular devices unlocked by members of Fahd's scheme as just over 1.9 million.

As reported by the DOJ, Fahd, in 2012, conspired with others to recruit AT&T employees at a call center located in Bothell, Washington, to unlock large numbers of cellular phones for profit.

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As part of Fahd’s recruitment drive, he bribed the employees to use their AT&T credentials to unlock phones for "ineligible customers."

Later in the conspiracy, Fahd had the bribed employees install custom malware and hacking tools that allowed him to unlock phones remotely from Pakistan.

Fahd was indicted in 2017 and arrested in Hong Kong in 2018. He was extradited and appeared in US District Court in Seattle in August 2019. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in September 2020.

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Ken Wieland

contributing editor

Ken Wieland has been a telecoms journalist and editor for more than 15 years. That includes an eight-year stint as editor of Telecommunications magazine (international edition), three years as editor of Asian Communications, and nearly two years at Informa Telecoms & Media, specialising in mobile broadband. As a freelance telecoms writer Ken has written various industry reports for The Economist Group.

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