On Thursday (September 16), a Pakistani national was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of wire fraud and causing losses to the tune of $200 million for AT&T i.e. the largest telecommunication company in the world.
According to the pressnu release by the US Department of Justice, the accused was identified as one Muhammad Fahd. In June 2012, the Pakistani citizen had reached out to an AT&T employee on Facebook and offered large sums of money to help him unlock phones secretly. He operated under the alias of ‘Frank Zhang’. Fahd asked the employee to recruit others, who then used their credentials to remotely unlock phones. The accused worked out of a call centre in Bothell in Washington.
During that time, telecommunication company AT&T had subsidised the cost of cell phones, sold them under instalment plans to make them affordable. However, when Fahd effectively unlocked such phones, it meant that account holders did not need to pay At&T anymore as the phones were removed from the network of the telecom company. The Pakistani fraud also asked his co-accused to set up fake businesses, create fake invoices to collect payments in the name of genuine business establishment.
Pakistani national hired employees, software developer to compromise AT&T systems
After a new unlocking system was implemented in 2013 by the telecom company, it became difficult for Mohammed Fahd to unlock phones without authorisation. As such, he hired a software developer and installed malware into the computer systems of AT&T. The objective was to unlock a large number of phones effectively and gain network access credentials of other employees. The recruited employees of AT&T shared ‘confidential information’ about computer systems and unlocking procedures with him. This helped the software developer tailor-make the malware for AT&T’s computer systems.
Fahd to pay restitution of $200 million, pled guilty to wire fraud in September last year
In an internal forensic analysis conducted by the world’s largest telecommunication company, it was discovered that a total of 19,00,003 (19 lac) cell phones were compromised. As a consequence, the customers did not make payments to AT&T, causing a loss of $201,497,430.94 to the company. The Pakistani national was charged for wire fraud in 2017 and was arrested the following year in Hong Kong. Muhammad Fahd was then repatriated to the United States where he appeared before the Seattle District Court.
It was only in September 2020 that he pled guilty to all charges, 7 years after he began the game of deceit and fraud. He was directed to cough up a restitution amount of $200,620,698. While sentencing Muhammad Fahd to 12 years in prison, District Judge Robert S Lagnik emphasised that the accused committed ‘terrible cybercrime’ for a long period, despite being well aware of the probe initiated against him by the law enforcement authorities. The case was jointly investigated by the US Department of Justice, US Secret Service, and IRS-CI.