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AT&T Cellphones Crime Iphone Security The Courts Apple

iPhone Users Sue AT&T For Letting Thieves Re-Activate Their Stolen Devices 197

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-phone-is-not-very-loyal dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Following on the heels of the FCC and U.S. mobile carriers finally announcing plans to create a national database for stolen phones, a group of iPhone users filed a class action lawsuit against AT&T on Tuesday claiming that it has aided and abetted cell phone thieves by refusing to brick stolen cell phones. AT&T has '[made] millions of dollars in improper profits, by forcing legitimate customers, such as these Plaintiffs, to buy new cell phones, and buy new cell phone plans, while the criminals who stole the phone are able to simply walk into AT&T stories and 're-activate' the devices, using different, cheap, readily-available 'SIM' cards,' states their complaint. AT&T, of course, says the suit is 'meritless.'"
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iPhone Users Sue AT&T For Letting Thieves Re-Activate Their Stolen Devices

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  • by DurendalMac (736637) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:22PM (#39679633)
    If customers reported their iPhones as stolen and had all of the necessary details (serial number, IMEI number, etc) that could uniquely identify their phones, then this suit may well have merit. This info is likely in either their system or Apple's system, especially if they both track serial numbers through sales and registration. If thieves are bringing stolen phones in and that data is in their system then they damned well should be doing something about it.
    • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:32PM (#39679747)

      Which is more likely?

      That a company that puts someone in a 3-year contract worth thousands of dollars per customer has no record of what they are selling or they figured that they could get away with selling the same service twice to two different people?

      "Your phone was stolen? It's only $550 to get another one, or we can just charge you for the services. Hang on, I've got a Mr. Crowbar McGee on the other line, how odd, same phone as you but no receipt."

      • by Githaron (2462596)

        Which is more likely?

        That a company that puts someone in a 3-year contract worth thousands of dollars per customer has no record of what they are selling or they figured that they could get away with selling the same service twice to two different people?

        "Your phone was stolen? It's only $550 to get another one, or we can just charge you for the services. Hang on, I've got a Mr. Crowbar McGee on the other line, how odd, same phone as you but no receipt."

        You are forgetting there is a second-hand market. They have no way of even knowing if the person who reported the phone stolen is even the one who currently owns the phone. The original owner could have sold the phone without notifying the carrier. i could see the carrier possibly disabling the phone if someone attempts to use the phone on a different customer without the phone first being de-registered with the carrier by the previous customer. Unfortunately, that would probably cause another group of peop

        • That is why a police report is filed. If the information about a stolen phone is good enough for a police report then it should be good enough for AT&T. Their truculence is merely a matter of profiteering on stolen merchandise.
        • by dgatwood (11270)

          The original owner could have sold the phone without notifying the carrier.

          There are only two situations where the original owner could have sold the phone:

          1. The original purchaser bought a new phone. 99% of the time, this comes from the carrier, but either way, there's a new phone talking to their towers with the old SIM card. No mugger steals the phone but leaves you your SIM card, so this is an easy one to catch.

          2. The original purchaser stopped using that company's service. This also can't happen

      • by puto (533470)
        As much as I might not like the polices of the T, as I work for them, let me correct a few things. I have never seen a three year contract, a 1 or a 2 but not a three year. We do track imeis but customers tend to pull their sim cards and hop from phone to phone, sometimes on a daily basis, that we have do system sweeps to update the imeis, because customers do not actually call us and tell us when they do. Also, I can imagine the indignant customers who want to activate an old iphone or one they got as a
        • Why would you need to see original proof of purchase? When a phone is reported stolen, stick its IMEI in a "banned" list. When someone brings the phone in to have it activated, take it from them and store it. Tell them they are in possession of property reported stolen and that the phone can be returned to the prior owner or they can leave their contact information and hash it out with the cops over who it belongs to.
          • Just because this example is simplified...

            1. Sell iPhone to unsuspecting customer

            2. Report it stolen.

            3. Receive returned phone.

            4. Repeat steps 1-3, until finally arrested.

            Just being a wise a$$. But what authority does a pimply faced sales clerk have to seize and hold a potentially stolen device? Much less detain an individual while waiting for the Police.

            Some people would threaten to sue for defamation and etc for being accused of having stolen a product.

            • You're missing the step where the police arrest you for filing false reports and defrauding people. As far as holding the device goes, if they gave it to you willingly, and you find it in a database of stolen property, why would there be any question about whether you get to keep it? It's stolen. You're keeping it for the police, who will be the ones who determine who is the rightful owner. You don't have to detain the individual at all: they are in possession of property that has been reported stolen. They
          • by puto (533470)
            Actually, here is how we unlock Iphones. We check the imei to make sure it is unlockable. Criteria 1. It has fulfilled its contractual agreement. If was bought at full price we will also unlock. 2. We make sure it was not reported lost or stolen. 3. We verify that Iphone that is requested to be unlocked, was originally engaged on the account they are calling about. We see where it was officially used last on our network and look into it before the unlock code is released. So if the above is not met, th
      • by Solandri (704621)
        How does AT&T make money off this? Your phone gets stolen so you spend $200 to buy a new one. Thief gets a SIM card for service, but doesn't spend $200 on a new phone. If you assume the thief would've gotten or already had cell phone service regardless (a cheap free one if he hadn't stolen yours), it seems like it's a net wash for AT&T.

        I agree they have a moral obligation to refuse to activate stolen phones, as an added discouragement for theft. But I don't see any profit motive in not doing
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:24PM (#39679651)

    in Australia, Telstra have a bad rap for fucking over customers, but this isn't an issue with them. A year back I lost my iPhone, reported it stolen, and within a week another Telstra customer began using it. Telstra stopped their service, had them come into a store, and simply took the phone from them and let me know I could collect it. As gravy, the idiot who'd been using it caused a scene in the Telstra store and had the police called on them - they were known to the cops and arrested for other reasons.

    On the bad side, I'd already bought another iPhone in the meantime. Win some lose some.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:24PM (#39679653)

    If I call AT&T or its agent and tell them that my phone has been stolen, then they are engaging in a criminal act when they reactivate that phone. There are no legitimate excuses for this behavior.

    If somebody steals a car that is equipped with a kill-switch in the engine and I, knowing that it is stolen, disables the kill switch so that the thief can drive the car, then I'm going to go to prison. The only difference between my behavior and AT&T's is that I am not a massive corporation, so I am subject to the laws of the United States.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      If I call AT&T or its agent and tell them that my phone has been stolen, then they are engaging in a criminal act when they reactivate that phone.

      NO, they are not engaged in a criminal act. You made that up.
      If these plaintiffs win their case, then it might be considered a criminal act, but until then there is no specific law that covers this.

      Its not just AT&T, its ALL carriers that do not block IMEIs. (MEIDs for CDMA phones).

      • by truedfx (802492)
        Huh? Whether the act is criminal will not be affected by a civil suit.
        • by icebike (68054) *

          I was merely responding to the GP who alleged it was a criminal act.

          If there was a finding that they did violate specific laws, even if by a civil jury, you can expect it will go to precedence if the inevitable appeal is upheld.

      • by Skapare (16644)

        Harboring known (or should have known) criminals is itself a crime. A carrier re-activating a phone that is known to be stolen, because it is reported by the verified owner that it is, or the original owner's term contract is still active, and not reporting that person to the police, is a crime. And as Mitt Romney said, "Corporations are people, too", that corporation needs to spend its 30 days in jail, if convicted.

      • by rahvin112 (446269)

        It's most certainly a conspiracy, and given their size, interstate status and other factors it probably qualifies for RICO as well. They knew the devices were stolen, they involved themselves in a conspiracy of theft and I'm willing to bet that at a minimum 1 time a stolen phone was taken across state lines which brings in RICO.

        I wish there were more prosecutors like those in NY that went after companies like ATT for stuff like this. A couple RICO charges against the company and making an example out of the

      • by msobkow (48369)

        Actually, they are engaged in a criminal act: receipt of stolen property.

        Not that AT&T is taking possession of the stolen property, but they are receiving service payments because of the stolen property.

        To follow along with the car analogies, it's like someone using a stolen car to provide taxi services. While the driver is in possession of the stolen vehicle, the taxi company itself is also culpable because their business is profiting from the theft.

    • Not necessarily, it has to be proven that the person receiving the stolen goods knew they were stolen, or at the very least that a reasonable person would have known or suspected. For instance, if someone sells an intact, but stolen, TV at a pawn shop the clerk isn't on the hook. However, if the person is trying to sell a TV with the serial numbers scraped off or wants next to nothing for what otherwise would go for a lot more, then the clerk should have reasonably suspected it was stolen and, at the very

      • by IVI V K (2022732)

        Possesion of stolen property is a crime regardless of whether you have prior knowledge or not.

        No matter the means of how you took possesion of stolen property, you have no rights to the property and it can be confiscated without reimbursement.

        Normally the loss of the property is the punishment for those who didn't know it was stolen.

    • by Spykk (823586)
      Yeah, but who has ever heard of a class action criminal suit? Won't somebody think of the lawyers?
    • by puto (533470)
      No if you call ATT where I work and say your phone has been stolen, we will suspend it. We will also tell you if you are serious about it, then go to the police and file a report and send us a copy, then it will be reported stolen in the system. Most people are too lazy to do that... are they just lost the phone but do not have the balls to admit it.
  • Disabled IMSI search (Score:5, Informative)

    by doston (2372830) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:24PM (#39679663)
    When I worked at AT&T as a systems engineer in SMS a few years back, we and anybody in customer care were able to perform a search by IMSI (sort of like a MAC address for cell phones). One day the IMSI search feature was suddenly yanked. Thought it was a bit strange, because one time I was able to use the IMSI search to find the new MSISDN (phone #) for a friend who'd lost his phone and it helped him recover it. Makes me wonder if AT&T just didn't want to be involved in stolen iPhonery, or if they yanked the search feature because the profits from the process (noted in the story headline) were just too tantalizing.
    • by icebike (68054) * on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:37PM (#39679795)

      I seriously doubt you worked as a system engineer if you don't know the difference between an IMSI and and IMEI.

      IMSI [wikipedia.org] = International Mobile Subscriber Identity, allows you to find out information about the account hold. Its on the sim. It allows you to violate people's privacy, which is why Joe Tech should not be able to look this up, not without a warrant.

      IMEI [wikipedia.org] = International Mobile Equipment Identity, a unique number built into the hardware. It can be used to block service to the device. That will bring the user in to complain. No warrant needed.

      • by doston (2372830) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:52PM (#39679973)

        I seriously doubt you worked as a system engineer if you don't know the difference between an IMSI and and IMEI.

        IMSI [wikipedia.org] = International Mobile Subscriber Identity, allows you to find out information about the account hold. Its on the sim. It allows you to violate people's privacy, which is why Joe Tech should not be able to look this up, not without a warrant.

        IMEI [wikipedia.org] = International Mobile Equipment Identity, a unique number built into the hardware. It can be used to block service to the device. That will bring the user in to complain. No warrant needed.

        It was IMEI, you're right. I'm not as much into cell phones..unix, linux, and the actual messaging systems in the background (SMTP email schleping). Was just a tool I had access to. My actual title was Engineer IV. I reported to Kevin Tromp, still the director of Messaging. Yes, I did work there. ;-)

      • Yup, you've got to be a total idiot to get one letter in a Slashdot post wrong.

        ...an IMSI and and IMEI.

    • by puto (533470)
      Really? I used the feature today.... And I used it in 2004.... and all the years in between.
      • by doston (2372830)

        Really? I used the feature today.... And I used it in 2004.... and all the years in between.

        Then you're in some real specific area where they allowed it to stay. As far as I knew, the tool was yanked.

  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:35PM (#39679775)

    ...The money is in the use of them - if someone wants something that's not traceable to them in the commission of some other criminal activity, they're gonna do one of two things: buy a disposable prepay or steal a phone. Either way, said handsets are going to be used once or twice, then disposed of ASAP. Whether that be from simply binning them or selling them on to some unsuspecting sucker.

    ALL carriers should have a mandate to brick handsets reported as stolen. Yes, there is a way of reactivating most handsets (by flashing them), but I don't think $crook would bother with the expense. He'd rather go buy a disposable prepay, and everyone's a winner. You get to keep your iphone, carrier gets to sell more handsets, and GCHQ gets to track more and more unregistered gear ;)

  • Where do I sign up. I've had 2 stolen.
  • They all were doing it.

  • You know, the one where you actually had to establish some sort of legal duty that was breached before you could support a claim of negligence, not just come up with something you wish they would have done and then sue them for not doing it.
  • Where do you get this crazy talk? Now if you'll excuse me I need to enslave another sedan chair carrier.

  • Used car dealers who assist in the reselling of stolen cars are routinely sent to jail. Pawn shop operators, ditto. Why not cell phone companies?

  • Im not sure if AT&T has the same sort of agreement with the insurance company they use(probably Asurion) but when I worked for a metroPCS retailer a few years back I'd get people who come to reactivate a phone and it would get rejected by our carrier activation system if the phone had been reported stolen to the insurance company. At the time insurance was about $6, and the deductible on the pricier handsets was $50. I''d explain how things worked if the phone was lost or stolen and customers would glad

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