They’re called “phreakers,” and they can do with a phone what hackers can do with computers. Few were more skilled—or more feared—than Matt Weigman, a blind teenager from East Boston. Using his heightened senses, he made himself untouchable. What he lacked, the FBI says, was the good sense to know when to hang up.
There is an art to it. To do it well, Weigman had to get into character. He’d picture the guy in his head. He’d become the phone company agent. An AT&T recording obtained by phreaker-turned-reporter Kevin Poulsen of Wired.com -reveals just how convincing Weigman could be. In the winter of 2006, Weigman called the phone company posing as one of its agents. He wanted to get the service of a fellow party-liner turned off.
“How ya doing, Byron? My name is William Jones, I’m calling you with AT&T asset protection,” Weigman says on the tape, running it off quickly, as if he’s practiced. For the sake of authenticity, he’s chosen the name of a real AT&T security agent.
“I am actually working on a customer fraud issue. We need to write out a ‘D’ order,” he says, using company-speak for an order to disconnect someone’s phone service.
The AT&T worker checks the account, sees that it’s paid in full, and wonders what the problem is. Weigman has anticipated this. “Yeah, we’re looking at a fraud account, so…we’re just gonna have to take that out of there.”
Then, 11 seconds of silence.
“You almost about to leave, huh?” Weigman asks. He’s reminding the agent that they’re colleagues, that they’re just doing their jobs.
“How long you been with AT&T?” Weigman asks.
“‘Bout 13 years.”
“Yeah, we just bought up BellSouth.”
“Imagine what I’d do with all that cash.”
“Oh man. Give me half a percent of that…okay, well, that will be off tonight.”
And so it was. Click. Just like that.
Jeff Daniels, an Alabama man who, after an initial spat, befriended Weigman on the party lines and describes himself as a mentor to the boy (a characterization that others in the scene dispute), says Weigman perfected his con to the point where it was virtually unstoppable. “He pretended to be a person for so long, they began to believe he was that person. He got so good at it that when he would call phone companies, they knew his voice and they trusted him.” Weigman created a kinship. “This is not an easy thing to achieve,” Daniels says. According to Daniels, Weigman went so far as to have AT&T set up a voice-mail box for him within its security division. When on occasion the company wanted to reach him, its employees would beep Weigman on his personal pager.