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December 8th 2011 8:48 pm

How come cellular carriers won't block stolen mobile phones in the United States?

Last week, C.W. Nevius, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote an editorial on how to potentially curb smart-phone thieves. He argued that some carriers in foreign countries (e.g., Australia) will actually block mobile phones from their networks if reported stolen. (See:­/2011­-12­-03­/bay­-area­/30473599­_1...)

From the SF Chronicle: Australia uses something akin to a serial number, basically a 15-digit fingerprint found on every phone. That number is transmitted every time the phone is used. A database crosschecks the number and blocks service to anyone who uses a stolen phone. The service is free to cellular customers.

When American carriers are asked why they don't do the same, there is a lot of huffing and puffing and hand waving, but none of it is very convincing. Frankly, the carriers don't gain anything from putting in this service, and actually add customers if someone signs up a stolen phone with them. As for the phone companies, every stolen phone is a potential new sale.

Companies would never want to admit that stolen phones are good for their bottom line. And they don't have a good excuse for why they can't implement something that has been successful in Australia.


It was something I found interesting when working at Apple. If a customer complained their iPod was stolen (I worked there pre-iPhone days), we could actually flag it in the database. There were occasions when people would bring in these stolen iPods for service and we'd simply refuse to help them. (Technically, you can't really accuse the customer of stealing it -- you don't know! They might have bought it off Craigslist, etc.)

I imagine that Apple still does this. However, they'll still allow the phones to use their services (iCloud, the App Store, iTunes, etc). They'll just refuse to help you out if you have any problems.

So, why won't carriers in the US do this? There seems to be an increasing rash of cell phone thefts. It seems like something like this might help mitigate it somewhat. It also makes logical sense.

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Talking to Gazelle at #gdgtsf10 I asked them how they dealt with receiving stolen merchandise. The rep said they've had police track the phones to their warehouse's and show up to retrieve them. Also they have a list of stolen phone's IDs and the phones are checked against the list prior to resale/refurb.
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I was always under the impression that if a phone was reported missing or stolen, then the device would be black-listed and it couldn't be used by anyone anymore. That means if you found it 5 minutes later then it'd be useless. Now it stands to reason that this would be limited to the carrier that the phone was reported on, I'm not sure how that would transfer over to other carriers. But still, its something at least.
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I've worked in the Wireless Communications Industry since 1998 and I confirm everything in that Article is TRUE!

Verizon and Sprint phones are blocked if the original user reports it lost or stolen... CDMA phones use ESN (Electronic Serial Numbers) that must be registered with the carrier for activation and network identification for calls, text, and data... Once that ESN is black listed the phone is no good.

AT&T, T-Mobile, and other Carriers that use GSM phones use SIM Cards to perfom the same function as above... as long as the person pays the bill the SIM card is good... They don't block stolen phones because a person with a SIM card (That is paying a phone bill) can use it...

BUT believe it or not - they can still track it because even GSM phones have a seriel number - that number attaches itself to the SIM card number when making calls, text, or DATA...
How do I know this? Because I used to be a manager for National CE Store - and one of my employees put rocks in one of the phone boxes and I found it... One phone call to the right person @ T-Mobile and they tracked it down to the theif's cousin was using it (that cousin also worked for a T-Mobile Retail Store)... - SO IF ANY CARRIER OR POLICE TELLS YOU THEY CANNOT TRACK IT to FIND your lost phone they are lying 1) they are just lazy or think that the efforts costs more of their time to track and find it... 2) They make money when you buy a new phone... 3) The Theif can become their potential new customer!

Blackberries are the ONLY phone when reported lost are stolen can 1) Never be used Again... 2) cannot get past the BB security check...pretty much is a brick afterwards... WHICH is why currently it is the only phone that is GOVERNMENT Approved.... Apple I think is the only other phone that is government approved.

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I've always thought that the phone that's GSM capable can be tracked by their IMEI. Make sense to request if they can block it that way instead of the SIMs number.
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