Toronto

2 phones, 1 number: How a telecommunications mix-up affected strangers' lives

A man and a woman who don't know each other say their privacy has been breached after a mix-up at a telecommunications company left them with the same phone number.

Freedom Mobile issued a new client a number that a previous customer had taken with them to another provider

Two strangers are worried about a breach of privacy after a mix-up at a telecommunications company meant they both had the same number. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

A man and a woman who don't know each other say their privacy has been breached after a mix-up at a telecommunications company left them with the same phone number.

Before even sharing her new number with others, Manar Anani started receiving text messages from several numbers she didn't recognize. She had just signed up for a text-only phone with Freedom Mobile on Oct. 7.

Freedom issued a new client a number that a previous customer had taken with them to Fido. Freedom eventually gave Anani a new number, but Anani isn't satisfied after experiencing all those strange texts.

"I responded with things like, 'I think you have the wrong number. Who are you? How did you get this number?' and people seemed genuinely confused," Anani told CBC News.

That same day, unbeknownst to Anani, Mashrur Kazi stopped receiving any texts from his family or friends with Freedom Mobile accounts. 

Kazi, who has a phone with Fido, a company associated with Rogers Wireless, says he later learned that Freedom "is the provider that gave out my number as an inactive number ... and activated it for [Anani's] text-only plan."

Kazi, a 21-year-old student, was studying to write two university mid-term tests and thought his friends were just slow replying.

He only found out there was a bigger problem when he was notified through Facebook by his cousin that a stranger was replying to the texts he was sending to Kazi's number.

I don't think anybody would voluntarily go up to a random stranger and say, 'Hey, would you like to take a look at all my text messages.'- Manar Anani

That stranger was Anani.

"I don't think anybody would voluntarily go up to a random stranger and say, 'Hey, would you like to take a look at all my text messages. I'm happy to share,'" she said.

"It didn't make sense to me that my number would be active in another place," Kazi said.

After Anani corresponded with a number of Kazi's contacts, she called the number she had just been issued, the one she considered hers.

To her surprise, Kazi answered, and through that connection, the two confirmed what they were already starting to suspect: they both had the same number.

Manar Anani's interaction with Freedom Mobile once she learned she was issued someone else's phone number. (Manar Anani)

They contacted their respective providers and received similar answers: no one had ever heard of something like this happening.

Kazi said Fido customer service told him he "was getting scammed and this is not possible."

He said he spent three hours at the Fido store trying to get the situation resolved.

Eventually, Fido representatives told Kazi the other person with the number had to get the issue fixed with Freedom Mobile.

In a statement to CBC Toronto, a spokesperson for Rogers, Fido's parent company, said Freedom Mobile assigned their customer's phone number to a Freedom customer in error and have since "worked with Freedom to ensure they resolved the issue."

"We sincerely apologize to our customer for the frustrating experience," Sarah Schmidt said. 

Anani was told on Oct. 8 that a manager would contact her about the situation but she says that didn't happen.

Eventually, she was given a new number and an apology after CBC News contacted Freedom Mobile.

Text messages from Anani to Kazi's cousin, who helped her learn she had been given an active number from Freedom Mobile. (Manar Anani)

She was disappointed.

"Freedom is not really acknowledging the actual mistake that's been made — the fact that someone else's number was sold to me," she said.

In my wildest imagination I didn't think this would be possible, where somebody else would be getting my information."- Mashrur Kazi

In addition to the stress associated with performing well in his university courses, Kazi said he had " a little panic attack," when he thought about all of the personal information on the phone he's had for the last five years.

"I felt very anxious. I felt very betrayed," he said. "In my wildest imagination I didn't think this would be possible, where somebody else would be getting my information."

As a courtesy to Kazi, Anani took the SIM card out of the phone.

"I want them to find out where they went wrong," Anani said.

How did this happen?

CBC News contacted both service providers and spokespeople acknowledged that this was an extremely unusual situation.

Each carrier in Canada is assigned a block of numbers — an area code and the first three digits of the number — through the Canadian Numbering Administrator, which indicates with which provider the number was originally set up.

In the case of Kazi and Anani's number, it was easy for the carriers to identify that the number they shared was assigned to Freedom.

But since 2007, mobile phone owners can keep their original number and switch providers —  a process called porting out by the carriers.

Once that happens, the number is supposed to be off limits unless it's cancelled by the customer, and even then it has to be out of commission for three months before it can be reassigned.

Kazi's number was ported from Freedom to Fido in September 2015 and had been his ever since, according to Fido.

In an emailed statement, Freedom acknowledged that the number was to have been "decommissioned" and "quarantined in our system to prevent it being assigned to new customers."

But the company says it still hasn't been able to determine exactly how the mix-up happened and it is continuing to investigate.

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