The Chicago Tribune has a story about how “pretexting” was used to acquire the personal phone records of a woman who was suing her former employer. “Pretexting” is a fancy word for “pretending to be someone else in order to get his or her phone records.” (In January, I wrote about the first people to face “pretexting” charges under the Telephone and Records Privacy Act of 2006, which was passed after Hewlett-Packard’s phone-record spying scandal was revealed.)
In the summer of 2005 Kathy Lawlor’s dad showed her a white envelope he retrieved from his neighbor’s garbage can, deposited there by a man Lawlor suspected had been following her.
“Probe” was typed in the return address field. Next to it was a picture of an eye that looked to Lawlor like the logo of a private detective agency.
The discovery set in motion Lawlor’s four-year battle to protect her right to privacy, which culminated last month when a Cook County jury found that her former employer, Glenview-based North American Corp. of Illinois, obtained her telephone records without her authorization. The jury ordered the company, a business services firm, to pay her $1.8 million. […]
Her phone records were obtained through what is known as “pretexting,” gaining confidential information under false pretenses. In Lawlor’s case, someone called her telephone carriers and pretended to be her. North American received her phone records as part of an investigation into whether Lawlor was stealing business from the company. The jury found that the pretexting in Lawlor’s case invaded her privacy.
The Tribune pieced together her story, which began as a pay dispute with her former employer, through trial transcripts and interviews. […]
When [her attorney] told Lawlor about the phone records, she was devastated. She stopped letting her kids play in the yard, changed the house locks and had a security system installed.
“I was nervous. I was paranoid. I didn’t trust anyone,” Lawlor testified.