Several months before the scandal erupted at Hewlett-Packard over using false pretenses to obtain people's phone records, a Federal Trade Commission investigator clicked on a Website that touted its ability to produce consumer cellphone and financial records.
When the site produced info on calls and credit-card transactions made by an FTC staff member, the agency sued the company for advertising and selling private records.
These cases were the beginning of a federal crackdown on so-called telephone pretexting, but no federal law explicitly makes pretexting for phone records a crime.
Instead, the FTC has had to use its mandate to stamp out "unfair and deceptive practices" in commerce. The agency can bring civil suits to compel companies to change their ways, but it can't levy stiff fines. (In the H-P case, former company execs and hired investigators have been charged under California laws.)
The FTC and the FCC want Congress to make pretexting for phone records a federal crime, providing enhanced enforcement power. Several bills that would criminalize pretexting for call data have been introduced in Congress, but none have been voted on. Consumer groups and the communications industry favor making pretexting for phone records illegal, but differ on the details. Private eyes and others oppose curbs on pretexting used to probe insurance claims, domestic relations and other issues. (info from The Wall Street Journal)