Burner phones and the pursuit of stolen money
'Burner phones' are frequently used by criminals and wrongdoers to commit fraud. This is because they are not registered to the user and are typically discarded once the fraud has been perpetrated. The problem which fraud victims face is how to prove who owned the phone? The good news is that English court will do whatever it can to help innocent parties. This is demonstrated in the recent case of Foglia v Family Officer Ltd (2021), in which the court forced a mobile phone operator to provide geolocation data which was then used to identify the fraudsters.
In that case, a €15m fraud was perpetrated by two phone calls from a burner phone. The fraudster posed as an individual authorised to give payment instructions, resulting in the payment of €15m out of the victim's bank account. Critically, the recipient of the calls noted the number from which the calls were made.
The English court made an order against the mobile phone company forcing it to reveal the precise location of the burner phone using triangulation/geolocation. This showed that the phone calls were made via a mobile cell tower less than 100 metres from one of the fraudster's offices.
The mobile phone company was also ordered to confirm the name of the issuing bank of the bank card used to buy the phone. The English court then made an order against that bank compelling it to reveal the identity of the cardholder who bought the phone. The cardholder turned out to be a junior employee of the fraudster. The court order also revealed that the fraudster had transferred £200 to the junior employee the day before they bought the phone.
This evidence clearly tied the fraudster into the fraud. This and other evidence satisfied the court that the fraudster had no prospect of defending the claim and it ordered judgment against them without even a full trial.
As the Judge commented, the orders obtained in the case "provide a striking illustration of the assistance which this Court is able to give to a defrauded party".