back to article What a flap: SIM swiped from slain stork's GPS tracker used to rack up $2,700 phone bill

A Polish charity is on the hook for 10,000 złoty (£2,010, $2,648) after a tracking device it put on a white stork was stolen in Africa – and its SIM card used to make a ton of expensive phone calls. The nature group Grupa EkoLogiczna attached the GPS device to the back of the bird, named Kajtka, in April 2017 while it spent …

  1. elDog

    Just wait until we all have an embedded SIM card....

    Not to sound too alarmist or conspiratorial or just friggin SF, but I've heard of some employees of some company(ies) somewhere agreeing to be tagged.

    What happens when the body-snatchers discover you've been tagged and can re-use your creds?

    I'm sure all the AV/malware folks are up on this, so no worries. How about the "state" actors which abound and seem to enjoy control.

    OK, back under my rock with a tinfoil roof.

    1. Fred M

      Re: Just wait until we all have an embedded SIM card....

      I've got one myself. It's just a NFC chip. No SIM. No malware. No tinfoil.

    2. Dr Dan Holdsworth

      Re: Just wait until we all have an embedded SIM card....

      A certain sci-fi author took this a stage further. When the protagonist found himself hard up for funds, he did what any criminal of that era would do and bought a finger. Specifically the finger of someone whose sudden departure from society would not be missed, said digit being attached to a mini life support device to enable it to carry on simulating being part of its late owner.

      All our criminal then had to do was use said finger to extract cash from the late donor's bank account until either it ran out or the donor's lack of life was noticed and the account stopped.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just wait until we all have an embedded SIM card....

      there are people who not only "agree to being tagged", they positively WANT TO and actively seek to. One of such "moi first!" is actually a "journalist" in Poland (a coincidence?! - I don't think so!) Quite famous for her inability to use her, supposedly, native language (why'd you need that in this line of work, eh?), and (constant) lack of any learning curve on just about any "technological" subject she takes on board. Actually, her work is very popular (perhaps clickbaiter by design?), as apparently people click on her texts to go straight to comments, some of them truly hilarious and run into hundreds. Mmm... that rings a bell...

      p.s. sure, I'm a chauvinist pig, because I'm male, and she's a brave female trying to break through the glass ceiling of hostile environment created by male cauvinist technology-writers, therefore she's right and I'm wrong, qed (though I'm not in that line of business anyway).

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    On the avian theme I'm surprised el Reg hasn't picked up on

    1. Holtsmark

      Trust me, they are aware of it.

      However, having an unfortunate El-Reg hack locked up in the Tower of London is not something that they wish to be known to a wider audience.

  3. Chris King

    And the moral of this story is...

    ...don't use a normal contract SIM for this type of application. This is more of a job for a suitably locked-down M2M SIM.

    1. Steve Aubrey

      Re: And the moral of this story is...

      Yeah, but where's the story there?

      Think of the children^W birds!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And the moral of this story is...

        well, certainly storks DO bring children to their baffled parents/legal guardians. Else they find them in the field of cabbage (seriously!)

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: And the moral of this story is...

          "Else they find them in the field of cabbage"

          I thought it was under a gooseberry bush.

          1. onefang

            Re: And the moral of this story is...

            "I thought it was under a gooseberry bush."

            Might depend if the mother was shaved / waxed or not.

            1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

              Re: And the moral of this story is...

              "I thought it was under a gooseberry bush."

              Rubbish! But my parents did tell me really weird storey.

        2. Usermane

          Re: And the moral of this story is...

          Really? Then wasn't a buzzard as my parents told me?

  4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    and used the SIM card for 20-hours of eye-watering phone calls.

    The way this usually works is that the miscreant(s) are working in combination with an operator of a premium line in one of the countries in Africa and/or around the Carribean. Stolen SIMs and stolen VOIP credentials are loaded into a dialer and the bill gets to eyewatering levels in seconds.

    That is where the 20 hours of non-stop calling come from. I suspect the stork(s) were targeted specifically because someone knew that the trackers contain a SIM.

  5. Borg.King

    Want to chat with a Stork

    Dial 100 and ask to speak to Buzby.

    1. Chris King
    2. Chris King

      Re: Want to chat with a Stork

      "Dial 100 and ask to speak to Buzby."

      It will confuse the agents from BT Bangalore, if nothing else.

    3. Usermane

      Re: Want to chat with a Stork

      Is that an adult line?

  6. Blockchain commentard

    "killed more than 1,110 Americans from Alaska to Hawaii" - that's a lot of Americans in the Pacific.

  7. Martin Summers

    Was it a StorkStork SIM?

    1. Chris King

      "Was it a StorkStork SIM?"

      Given that they were tracking the bird, wouldn't it be StalkStork ?

  8. Jay Lenovo

    Renew Recycle Reuse

    So someone "stole" the tracking device from the wild (likely already dead) bird.

    Was it addressed with return postage to Poland?

    1. Martin Summers

      Re: Renew Recycle Reuse

      I'm not sure you'd be OK to send a dead stork back in the post.

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        Re: Renew Recycle Reuse

        You could send it back via airmail. =-)p

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Renew Recycle Reuse

        dead stork - no. Bricks - no. B.. b... NO! What has the world come to! :/

    2. Adam 1

      Re: Renew Recycle Reuse

      What? Postage from Sudan to Poland? I guess the only sensible question remaining is African or European?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    eSIM, private APN, data only. Sorted.

    Except they probably just went down to the shops to buy their SIM.

  10. Andy Mac

    I always find the huge phone bill stories a bit confusing. Speaking personally, it’s not like I’m sitting around thinking about all the phone calls I would make, if only they were cheaper. Unless it’s a data bill of course.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Read above...

      It's about milking any premium rate phone access you can - imagine having a porn chat line which makes $20/minute just waiting for stolen SIMs to call it.. I'm sure there's quick access to the proceeds so it's the first thing that happens to lost but 'active' SIMs

    2. Anonymous Cow Herder

      Huge Phone bill

      Voland's right hand - had the answer. Basically you use a stolen mobile (or SIM in this case) to phone your own premium rate number. I actually can't think of a legitimate use for premium rate numbers. I accept that there must be, but all the ones you hear of are set up for this kind of scam. The phone companies are acting as enablers to the scam and (I suspect) receive a cut of your astronomic bill as if to add insult to injury.

  11. onefang

    What happened to the baby the stork was carrying?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It was making the phone calls

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Silly, most operators provide solutions to this.

    I work for a company that deals with vulnerable people. We offer them emergency phones to contact our dedicated call centre if they need to. The SIM cards in these phones are standard, provided by UK operators, but are restricted to calling our number only (we foot the bill). We also have a VPN setup with Vodafone for our operatives in the field. This means their devices, despite being roaming on the mobile networks far from head office, function as if directly connected to our corporate network with all the controls you'd expect in such an environment.

    Why this wasn't done here?

    1. AndyS

      You're asking why a, presumably quite small, charity in Poland didn't have the same IT and security infrastructure in place as a commercial organisation that specialises in IT?

      My guess - the £2,000 bill is the first time this has happened, and there is a step cost associated with the setup to avoid this situation. Which, being a small charity, the very few people there maybe didn't even consider.

      If they handle this well, there is at least some chance that the bill will be refunded, especially as the telco could play it to the media as a charity contribution. They will also presumably now use locked-down sims, to prevent a repeat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "You're asking why a, presumably quite small, charity in Poland didn't have the same IT and security infrastructure in place as a commercial organisation that specialises in IT?"

        My company isn't in the IT industry, nor do we specialise in IT. We're also a non-profit although medium sized.

        We also screw up most things we touch when it comes to IT, which is why I'd expect if we're doing something properly, so are others. I mean our IT dept isn't particularly technical, there are a few lights, but for the most part it's follow the suppliers say-so and anyone who goes against that mentality causes friction.

        I ask "why haven't we done X?" on an almost daily basis at our place.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why this wasn't done here?

      I hate to call BS on you, but since my wifes Telecare contract was dropped by our local council I have been unable to find *any* UK agency that will support a GSM based emergency contact service.

      Not having a landline in the UK is starting to be a thing.

      So who are this mythical UK company that offers that service ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why this wasn't done here?

        "UK agency that will support a GSM based emergency contact service."

        Who said anything about a GSM emergency contact service? I said we have restricted SIM cards that are used by vulnerable people to contact us in-case of emergency (as in a non-life threatening, personal emergency related to their vulnerability).

        So call BS all you like, but what really happened here is a reading fail, the clue was in "to contact our dedicated call centre if they need to".

        In a life-threatening emergency, they're advised to dial 999 as you'd expect. Our call centre is certified (I forget the code) but as a result has a priority line to the actual emergency services in-case we are contacted first in a real emergency.

        I'll also add that even though these SIMs are restricted to what they can dial, they can dial 999, which is a requirement by law.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why this wasn't done here?

          In which case, mate, you need better marketing. Our 3 local health and social care providers insist there is no UK service which doesn't require a landline. As does my personal research.

          There are quite a few units which will take a SIM and use GSM to contact the call centre. But no call centres that will accept a GSM call.

  13. Pangasinan Philippines

    So for 20 hours . . .

    They didn't know that calls were being made.

    They couldn't tell Stork from mutter.

    If you remember the advert, then you are old!

    1. Ben Bonsall

      Re: So for 20 hours . . .

      If you remember that gag from I'm sorry i'll read that again then you're probably older :)

      1. BitCoward

        Re: So for 20 hours . . .

        Some of us younglings have mp3s of those shows.

        1. Ben Bonsall

          Re: So for 20 hours . . .

          Do you have the one about Nelson, or Doctor Y and the Thing?

          I have only really terrible recordings ogf those...

  14. 89724102172714582892114I7751670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Stork SB (shitty butter)

    Poor stork...

  15. Neoc

    Someone explain to me why they didn't use a data-only PREPAID SIM?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I would have expected a big bill on a stork.

    Srsly, why not data-only?

  17. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

    Why not data-only...

    Because standard SIM deals are dirt-cheap in Poland. I got 10GB of data, including European roaming before it was mandated, for the equivalent of about £2 on a pre-pay SIM

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why not data-only...

      That's the point - it should have been pre-pay.

  18. DropBear

    They deserve every single cent on that bill for the utter lack of any sort of diligence on the matter. If you think you're entitled to a carefree stroll through a construction site, no need for a hard hat, just because you're "just a little old lady" and can't be bothered to care, you absolutely deserve to get your head taken off.

    1. tiggity Silver badge


      Their skills would be in birds, conservation, biology etc

      Probably with little funds, using volunteers

      Likely to be lacking IT / telecoms specialists in the charity to give them advice...

      Maybe lacking the general world weary cynicism of an el reg reader who would assume a SIM on a tracker would be nicked.

      A perfectly reasonable error of judgement for someone to make , so I think the slagging off of those charity people is a bit uncalled for, most of us are often quite dismal at things outside our areas of expertise, in a way that an expert in that area would think "total muppet".

    2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      You think a hard hat can protect against decapitation?

  19. Matt_payne666

    Charity lacking in IT sense??

    But they have developed and deployed a miniature tracking device....

    while in house IT may not be to blue chip standard, they did manage to find enough skill somewhere to bring this project to fruition - if the data tracking module was designed and built by the charity, then one would assume the knowledge would be there to use a SIM that would have some controls on its use...

    If, and i expect this is the case, the tracker was bought in, then during the sales and training for the unit someone should have impressed on the security features of the product and supplied details of validated carriers and sim types.

    Then... well, im no bird expert, but I would expect that if one of my subjects had failed to move for a few days that it was probably not in a good way... and after a week of no movement Id have probably written off the creature - prompting the closure process for that particular tracker.

    Its unfortunate, and a learning process, but these things happen...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm (a little) intrigued whether the sim card was registered in stork's real name, project manager's, or any other. Because they DO have to register sims in Poland. You know, terrorism, etc. etc.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In Africa?

    So what, the SIMs in all the remote control traffic lights in Joburg have been stolen and they're reduced to shooting birds for their trackers?

  22. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    "Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?"

    I came for the IT angle... ended up unexpectedly learning something interesting about Storks. This is why I like the Register.

    Do you know anything about Vultures also?

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