By now, almost all investigators understand the value of cell phone forensic examinations and the recovery of deleted text messages from a cell phone. The very recent introduction of cell phone forensic tools and services is probably the biggest advance in the investigation industry since the invention of the magnifying glass. If an investigator can obtain consent or ownership of a cellular device, they can obtain call logs, call details, text messages, photos, videos, and even voice messages. The amount of information that can be recovered is staggering. There is probably no better investigative tool available today, but not all investigators realize that a cell phone forensic analysis and deleted data recovery can be successful on prepaid cell phones.
People concerned about privacy will use a prepaid cell phone because you don’t need to provide a name, address, or phone number when you buy the phone or set up phone service. This is why prepaid cell phones, also known as disposable phones, are so popular with drug dealers, criminals, and unfaithful spouses. The entire process can be done anonymously with cash without leaving paper traces of the identity of the phone user. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse phone number lookup or obtain a customer’s name and address. But the internal memory of the phone is no different than any other phone and the stored or deleted data can still be recovered and reduced to a report.
There is no physical difference between a Blackberry on AT&T or a Blackberry on a prepaid Internet service. Both phones can undergo a data recovery forensic exam and both exams would return the same amount of data. Similarly, you can subpoena the custodian of the phone company records and get all the detailed call records for a prepaid number, just like you would a normal monthly billed phone number.
In the case of a forensic examination of a cell phone to recover deleted text and phone numbers from a prepaid phone, the investigator has the upper hand over the owner of the device. Most of the people who use these types of disposable anonymous phones do not know that a forensic examination will recover all the deleted information. Once this information is reduced to a report, it can be presented as evidence in court. The phone can be connected to the owner if it is in your possession at the time of seizure, or in some cases, dialed phone numbers or other identifying information can be found on the phone to connect you to the owner.
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