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Fraudulently obtaining cellular services is a state and federal crime

On Behalf of | Sep 5, 2023 | Federal Criminal Defense

Today’s smartphones are some of the most sophisticated devices anyone can own. Not only do they serve as portable phones that can take calls and messages, but users can also take photos and videos, surf the internet, watch videos online, play games, use apps for various things, etc.

However, smartphone users need to be signed up to a service provider for many of those functions, and these phone plans can be surprisingly costly. According to recent data, the average monthly cost of a phone plan in America is $144, which translates to over $1,700 each year.

You might think it’s a smart idea to develop technology that allows you to circumvent the fees of a mobile provider to access services. But both California and the federal government consider such attempts illegal. Anyone caught using technology to bypass mobile plan fees can face fines and even imprisonment.

Federal law on unauthorized telecommunications service access

Per federal law, it’s illegal for anyone to produce, sell or possess a telecommunications instrument (like a smartphone) that’s modified to allow unauthorized access to telecommunications services. Anyone convicted of violating the law must pay a fine equivalent to twice the value obtained by the offense (i.e., the amount of mobile plan fees avoided by the convicted) and serve up to 10 years in prison.

It’s also illegal to use or produce hardware and/or software that can modify a telecommunications device’s electronic serial number or signal to allow it to use mobile services without fees. A conviction for violating this law leads to a fine equivalent to twice the value obtained by the offense and up to 15 years in prison.

State law on unauthorized telecommunications service access

California also has a law prohibiting illegal telecommunications equipment that can prevent the user from paying for mobile services. A first offense can lead to a misdemeanor conviction, which carries a maximum $1,000 fine and up to 364 days in jail. However, a subsequent conviction becomes a felony, with up to a year in state prison and a maximum $50,000 fine.

Avoiding mobile plan fees is a bad idea

In summary, trying to skirt mobile plan fees through technology is a fraud crime at both the state and federal levels. Because the offense can lead to multiple criminal charges, it would be wise for anyone accused to consider their legal options.