Carriers Building Database to Blacklist Stolen Phones

All four national carriers in the United States have agreed to build a national registry of stolen phones. Each carrier–AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon–will have its own list and will update its existing information to a larger national registry so that they can all work together in blocking a stolen phone from being activated on a network. For instance, someone with a stolen AT&T iPhone would not be able to turn to T-Mobile to get the device activated there, but it remains unclear if by merely popping in another AT&T SIM card would work as most GSM phones on AT&T do not require additional activation steps and would work with any compatible active SIM.

At this time, only Verizon and Sprint block phones that are reported as stolen from being activated on their networks whereas GSM carriers AT&T and T-Mobile USA do not have such policies in place. This will change with the new registry and hopefully, by making it harder for thieves to use stolen property, we’ll have more honest citizens.

However, this does present risks to the secondary market where used phones are often sold and bought on online services such as eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist. Users who are interested in buying a second-hand phone would need a way to check to see if the phone they’re seeking is a stolen device so consumer access to the registry may be an important component.

According to the Wall Street Journal, smaller regional carriers will be joining the efforts over the next two years.

The aim of the registry is to devalue stolen phone equipment. With the rise of smartphones, phones have become a hot commodity for theft as they’re small and portable, making them easy to lift. In countries where a registry is in place, theft has declined.

As these carriers use differing network technologies, the technology component to verify the SIM and the equipment being legitimate on a network would need to be worked out.

  

Comments

  1. Phone Registry says

    Yes, its good to see that someone is doing something about this issue. As phone such as iphone and blackberry become more advanced, they will become a much bigger target by thieves and something must be in place to deter them.

  2. Aaron Aarons says

    If this is to be a blacklist of actually stolen phones it is one thing. But is it possible that the carriers will also be able to blacklist phones that were legitimately owned by people who decided to discontinue their service before their contract expired? (In the U.S., at least, keeping your phone when you allegedly owe money on it is not a crime, but a matter of civil dispute between the customer and the carrier.)

    In any case, can’t hardware and/or software hackers combine a non-blacklisted ESN/MEID/whatever from a broken phone with everything else from a good but blacklisted phone to make a working, non-blacklisted phone? Or, more simply but less profitably, use the blacklisted phone for parts?

    Moreover, a blacklisted phone that is wifi-capable, as most are, will, presumably, still be usable as a wifi device, including for VOIP service. So there will still be incentive to steal expensive phones, though not as much incentive as there would be without such a blacklist.

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