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Phone cloning is a practice where someone hacks a cell phone to associate its identifying data with that of another unit. This effectively allows people to make calls anonymously, as the calls will be mistakenly traced to another individual. It also allows people to make free calls, since the bill goes to the person with the original model. In most nations, phone cloning is a form of fraud and is considered illegal, with heavy penalties, since it involves tampering with telecommunications devices. People who believe they may have been victims of this technique should report it to their cell carriers immediately.
Every handset has two paired pieces of data used by the provider to identify it, the electronic serial number (ESN) and mobile identification number (MIN). Someone who wants to clone a phone can illegally access cell signals to harvest this data, and then reprogram the chip inside a phone to get it to transmit the ESN and MIN of another model. The cloned phone's radio signal will still be slightly different, and this can allow the provider to catch it.
People engage in this activity for a variety of reasons, ranging from wanting an anonymous phone to use for illegal activities to not being able to afford cell service. In regions with a large immigrant community, entrepreneurs may sell cloned phones to people who want to be able to place calls to their home nations. People use them until the provider catches on, and then abandon them for cloned replacements.
Victims of phone cloning will notice changes on their bills, usually a drastic spike in charges with calls to numbers they do not recognize. People may also send texts with cloned phones. Some victims report issues like missing calls or being unable to place outgoing calls and texts. Anyone who notices something irregular should contact the cell provider to report it. The sooner people identify the problem, the more quickly it can be addressed. The device usually needs reprogramming by a representative of the service provider to give it new unique identifiers.
Guides to phone cloning circulate, along with equipment people can use for this purpose. In some nations, owning such equipment can subject people to legal penalties on the grounds that ordinary consumers would only have fraudulent uses for it. People who want legitimate access to this type of equipment for the purpose of studying phone cloning and improving security to prevent it must usually work for the manufacturer, cell provider, or a consulting agency.