Date: Wednesday, September 27, 1995 Section: VIRGINIA
Page: A-1

NOTE: Above

HE WAS SURPRISED to find out that his computer bulletin board discussion group had been set up by the Secret Service.

A Roanoke County man who liked logging onto a computer bulletin board late at night under the alias "Kamikize" to swap information on computer hacking has been caught up in a national sting operation by the Secret Service.

Local Secret Service agents, a computer expert from the agency and Roanoke County police showed up at Scott Dickinson's door around 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 8 with a search warrant to seize his computer and equipment.

Dickinson, who has not been charged with anything, was a member of a computer bulletin board discussion group secretly set up by the Secret Service. The bulletin board was called Celco 51 and was created by the federal agency in January as part of "Operation Cybersnare," an investigation to catch hackers stealing credit card numbers and cellular phone account numbers.

The Secret Service acted as a fence, buying stolen cellular phone access numbers, credit card numbers and personal information about the legitimate owners that would enable a thief to successfully make purchases with them.

Celco 51 was open only to people approved by its founder, "Carder One," actually a New Jersey Secret Service agent. To be approved, according to the agency, members had to show they were proficient in computer intrusion or fraud - a requirement that may help the Secret Service avoid claims of entrapment.

The Secret Service says users of Celco 51 sold and traded stolen identification numbers used to encode and program cellular phones and swapped information on credit card fraud.

Computer fraud and unauthorized use of access devices are, like counterfeiting, crimes Congress has charged the Secret Service with investigating.

Dickinson, 21, said he didn't believe he did anything illegal, but his computer files are being analyzed at the Secret Service's Washington, D.C., lab for evidence. Prosecutor Elliot Turrini of the U.S. attorney's office in Newark, N.J., which is prosecuting the nationwide case, said the investigation is ongoing. New Jersey is the site of many of the nation's cellular phone businesses.

Search warrants have been served on 12 people as part of the investigation, and six of them have been arrested and charged with various fraud and unauthorized computer access violations. Those arrested are all men between the ages of 18 and 27, including residents of Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston and Huntington Beach, Calif.

Conversations on the Internet, where the person typing on the other end may not be what he seems, are a matter of trust. And in the past few weeks, federal law enforcement agencies have revealed that they have taken advantage of that anonymity to nab people allegedly using the Internet to break the law.

The FBI announced two weeks ago that it had been working undercover on America Online for several years, posing as young children in electronic conversations to catch pedophiles and child pornographers. The Secret Service's Operation Cybersnare is the first sting operation using a computer bulletin board, the agency said.

Dickinson was one of the 12 whose computers were seized, and his father said authorities will not say whether he may be charged.

Agents took Dickinson's computer, monitor, printer, 103 diskettes and the cables, power strip and other equipment from his Nover Avenue home. They also took a book from his car called "Internet Firewalls and Network Security," according to the search warrant.

"They expected to find a business cloning cellular phones," his father, Robert Dickinson, said. "If they had found what they expected to find, he would have been led away in cuffs."

Stealing the electronic serial numbers and mobile identification numbers from cellular phones is big business; the industry estimates it loses $1 million a day in revenue because of such fraud.

The numbers can be stolen directly from phone company computer banks or by picking up the code numbers on scanners when motorists use their phones. Those numbers are then loaded into "cloned" phones that are sold, with the charges being added to the legitimate customer's bill. The ruse is usually good until the customer gets the next month's bill and discovers the extra charges.

The search warrant affidavit alleges that, using the misspelled alias "Kamikize," Dickinson posted five sets of valid cellular account numbers on the Celco 51 bulletin board in June. He also is alleged to have posted a credit card merchant account number that allows the owner to check a card's balance over the phone.

In July, according to the affidavit, Dickinson stated on the bulletin board that he had other numbers to trade. He also downloaded information about the format of Discover card magnetic strips and other information provided by other users, the affidavit says.

Robert Dickinson said his son didn't have the equipment and hardware needed to store and clone cellular phone access numbers, which agents expected to find.

"They were sort of embarrassed," he said. "What they were looking for, they didn't find."

He said his son called the bulletin board in New Jersey and downloaded information about hacking out of curiosity.

"There's nothing illegal about knowing how to clone cellular phones," he said. "I know how to write bad checks, but I don't do it."