AT&T, T-Mobile First To Switch On Database To Track Stolen Cellphones

In a second day of AT&T, T-Mobile news, the two companies have announced they are the first to switch on a joint database to track stolen cellphones. First announced back in April, the companies hoped that the establishment of such a database would help “deter smartphone thefts and protect the personal information on them.” All four major US carriers agreed to the database in April, with CTIA executive Chris Guttman-McCabe saying AT&T and T-Mobile are the first to go live thanks to their interchangeable GSM networks.

There’s no word on when Verizon and Sprint will also go live with this database, but it’s expected that all four carriers will use the joint database before the end of November 2013. The database records the unique identity number of each cellphone reported stolen, better known as an IMEI number and blocks it from being activated once it’s added to the list.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty happy with those move considering how easy it has been in the past to get a hold of a smartphone, swap a SIM card and turn someone else’s phone into your own. This database sounds like a great plan.

The Verge via Network World

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  • Cheezusprice

    T-Mobile has always has to tech to track IMEI numbers from lost or stolen phones. They used to use it to track phones that went missing from inventory and devices stolen from the sales floor. They never used it for customers because there is not money to be made. Why help someone find a lost or stolen phone when you can just sell them a new one…

    • eanfoso

      On the contrary, do you know how much t-mobile loses on a subsidized mobile? A lot of money, plus that’s why asurion is there, the other day I got my mytouch 4g stolen, reported it and got a Galaxy blaze 4G, it surely was an upgrade and all for just 130 $ when that phone retails at 400 $ so no they lose money When selling phones, that’s why they have the bring your own device plan

      • thepanttherlady

        You may have gotten a great deal but keep in mind the thousands/millions of customers paying the insurance premium each month that DON’T file claims. In all the years I’ve had cell service I have ALWAYS had insurance. I’ve only need to file 2 claims in all these years. I’m quite sure they aren’t operating at a loss. :)

        Additionally, depending on the circumstances surrounding the replacement, refurbished devices are sent instead of new ones. Refurbished devices don’t hold the same retail value as new ones.

  • Alvin Brinson

    My only concern with this is that it will kill the eBay market for used phones. Years ago I sold a Sprint HTC Touch on eBay that I had bought new myself. I ended up falsely accused of selling a stolen phone because the store failed to correctly activate the phone. Ended up with a chargeback and i never got the phone back either. Ever since then I’ve recommended nobody sell Sprint phones in eBay because they are too quick to blame technical problems with used phones on it being stolen whether it really is out not. Also that you don’t buy Sprint out Verizon phones used because even if the esn is clear now,it might not be by the time you activate it. Now you have to worry about that with all carriers.

    • thepanttherlady

      The only way this will work now is to actually meet at a carrier location and have the phone activated with the “owner” present to release the phone to you. Blah!

      • Michael Albatrosov

        Not even. The owner can then turn around and file an insurance claim and it will be turned right back off

        • thepanttherlady

          Nope. Once the “seller” releases the ESN or IMEI # to the “buyer” they are no longer able to recoup it as a loss to their insurance. That’s why I’m saying the transaction has to take place at the carriers location so these scams cannot happen.

      • Jason Crumbley

        I wonder if this is why the phone I sold to a friend of mine wouldn’t work when she tried to activate it.

        • thepanttherlady

          Depends. Is it a T-Mobile phone? Does she have T-Mobile too (e.g. she has a T-Mobile sim card). Did you purchase the phone free and clear or do you still owe on it or default on your contract? Value plan or Classic plan? See? There are a LOT of variables as to why it isn’t working.

        • Jason Crumbley

          It was a Verizon phone. I bought the phone new from Verizon and paid an ETF to leave Verizon. I wonder if they screwed me because of it.

        • thepanttherlady

          I can think of 3 things that may have prevented your friend from activating the phone:

          1. You owe Verizon money. If this is the case, the ESN is bad and would only be useful to be used with a company such as MetroPCS (for the moment).
          2. You don’t owe Verizon money per se but they may have a policy requiring full payment of the phone’s retail value should you cancel your contract early…DESPITE paying the ETF. This would prevent people from starting a contract (or renewing) to get a subsidized phone then canceling at 31 days and paying the ETF to flip the phone for profit. Make sense?
          3. If none of the above pertain to your situation, you may need to go in with your friend to “release” the phone to him/her so they can activate it.

        • Jason Crumbley

          I had the phone for over a year. It was a HTC Incredible.
          How do you release a phone?

        • thepanttherlady

          You’ll need to contact Verizon directly to ask why the phone can’t be activated. They’ll let you know.

    • Farhan

      I’ve stopped doing business (buying and selling) on Ebay because they’re nothing but a headache. Been using craigslist for a couple of years with no problems….

      In your case however, did you try contacting Sprint to get the receipt for your phone so ebay could give you your money back? A Sprint purchase receipt should have been enough to show the phone wasn’t stolen.


    You can always check the IMEI beforehand very easy to do

    • jonathan3579

      Yes but you run the risk when unknowingly purchasing a phone on an EIP and they don’t pay and you’re blacklisted. That’s happened to me once before…

  • eanfoso

    Finally some justice for those of us who at one point have had their mobile stolen!

    • chris roberts

      Sorry Erick but Justice???? It’s no ones fault but yours if your phone gets stolen.. For the price we all pay YOU should be more careful!!!!

      • eanfoso

        Well it’s true that it’s justice, but besides, I have insurance and the new phone I got was even more expensieve hehe sorry for beating the system ;)

  • thepanttherlady

    Does anyone know what will be put into place to protect the consumer/buyer as a result of this database?

    It’s not a new scam where after a transaction, a seller reports the phone lost or stolen to benefit from a new device via their insurance. CDMA phones would result in the ESN being locked and the buyer having then purchased a very expensive paper weight. As a previous Verizon customer, I ALWAYS insisted my buyers meet me at a Verizon store and verify/activate the phone with me present so they had confidence I wasn’t scamming them. Unfortunately, not everyone is as honest.

    Now that GSM phones will be included and as someone who frequently trades on Craigslist, I’d like to know I’m protected from such scams.

    • jelliottz

      I also frequently trade on Craigslist. I wonder if there will be a way to have they imei registered to you after a trade? The previous owner must sign it over.

      I’m glad that I enjoy my current phone. Makes me quite scared to swap it now.

      • thepanttherlady

        I, too, am enjoying my phone. The S2 was the first phone I didn’t actively pursue trading but utilized Craigslist more for selling mine when I purchased the next one I want. With this new implementation; however, a buyer’s fear may result in me having a more difficult time in selling.

        As the OP below me also stated, if the phone was purchased using an EIP and defaults on their contract, an unsuspecting buyer may find themselves locked out of a phone they’ve been using. I like your idea of “signing over” the phone; however, is it truly considered theirs if they, themselves haven’t fully paid for it? What if they bought the phone from someone on Craigslist? Do we then have to treat our transactions like we do for the DMV when selling our cars by providing bills of sale?

        There HAS to be some sort of protection for the legit transactions as well as for the people who truly lose or have their phones stolen. I prefer being optimistic but I’m not sold on this. Yet.

  • Great now I have to worry about ppl who might declare their phone stolen to get another one when they sell it to me on Craigslist. I’m gonna feel like a Verizon user having to check for bad ESN’s or IMEI’s in this case. Making it harder to get around those “subsidized” prices.

    • MuthaFuckinStephen

      Verizon should have an app that let’s the buyer do an esn check on the spot.

  • steveb944

    Thank goodness.

    I’m wondering would this database only be national or does this stop international registration as well?

    • It’s only in the US. It’s nearly impossible to prevent stolen US phones from being used internationally.

  • Sam

    So what happens to the guy who innocently purchases a smartphone from a thief and his device becomes unfunctional? Or what if you buy from Craigslist and then the guy calls in and says his phone was stolen?

    I don’t like the concept of this program. Can do more harm than good.

    • enoch861

      Agreed. I’m in the same boat. I bought a One S for a family only to find out it was IMEI blocked from T-Mobile (I don’t know if the phone was stolen or what, especially since it came with the box and stuff). Got a hold of an AT&T SIM, cut it, and stuck it in the phone. And guess what? It says “No Signal”. I might waltz into an AT&T Store and see if they can try a real Micro-Sim to see if it connects. Otherwise, I’m stuck with a brick that I basically can’t use.
      The worst part? No one seems to want to buy it. Even at 200. It sucks so much! I wish the carriers had a way to help out consumers who get burned like this.

      • thepanttherlady

        We can thank the thieves and dishonest people trying to pull insurance scams for this nice new feature. SMH.

        At this point? If you want to buy a phone from Craigslist, you’d better damn well make sure to meet them at T-Mo or AT&T to activate the phone then and there. Gone are the days of being able to buy gifts for family and friends. :/

        Glad I’m flipping the extra Note 2 I bought, tonight! Looks like I’m retiring.

        • I agree. I’ve grown accustomed to buying and flipping phones on eBay/Craigslist whenever I want a new one. With this blocking now it seems like it would be too frustrating to try and buy a used device now.

        • Mackenzie

          for how much are you selling? ebay? swappa? In the market for a Note II immediately.

        • thepanttherlady

          When I sell it’s on Craigslist, and it’s gone.

  • James

    You can still use the t-mobile and att phones with other prepaid companies this is gonna increase the smaller prepaid companies revenue’s

  • MagentaUser

    What’s with the dumb logo? They’re still 2 separate companies. The merge didn’t go through

  • Worker

    The Gsm No Contract Carriers have been blocking devices that have been lost or stolen on Tmobile and Att…. Not all of them but a good amount of them…. So this will make it worse for people buying phone and not knowing there lost or stolen

  • OnlineRefugee

    I am torn between getting an “old” Note or the Samsung Galaxy S III.

    Questing on my local Craig’s for a deal I find most interesting that there’s a LOT, and I do mean A LOT, of iPhones for sale. IMO most of those are hot.

    To be sure, back in the old days, meaning about six months ago, there were never so many iPhones offered for sale.

    Now I know what some of you will say, that’s simply because people have upgraded to iPhone 5 and are looking to dump their old iPhones. I agree that could be part of the reason there’s an increased influx of Craig’s iPhone listings. But I suspect it is because iPhone robberies and thefts are up.

    Bottom Line – There’s a correlation here: as iPhone robberies and thefts increase, so too do the listings on Craig’s.

    Here’s the search results on Craig’s only using the term “AT&T”

    • philyew

      It’s possible that crime has a bearing, but there were 5 million new devices sold over the iPhone 5 launch WEEKEND alone!

      That intense level of buying activity will have generated an equally intense bubble of sales activity. Now is not the time to conclude that crime is the primary driver.

  • OnlineRefugee

    On the local news here (San Francisco) when covering the huge increase in phone robberies and theft, the news guy said what criminals are doing now is immediately exporting the stolen phones to other countries, that is, rather than trying to sell them in the U.S., which is becoming more difficult.

    Maybe the ONLY thing that will cut back on thefts is if a carrier can fry the phone’s chip regardless of where in the world the phone is “relocated.” Of course that would take the cooperation of carriers throughout the world, which may be difficult to achieve.

    But if the market for stolen phones is limited bit by bit, that’s a start. (It will at least cut back on thefts by U.S. criminals if they know they can’t unload a phone on eBay or Craig’s List.)

    Sure, they can pawn it to the Guatemalan iPhone cartel, but I don’t think lowlife, unsophisticated U.S. criminals (aka drug addicts and dumbsessɐ) have connections to the Guatemalan iPhone cartel. But I could be wrong on that. Maybe the common criminal steals the phone and fences it to the local cartel liaison.

    • thepanttherlady

      I agree that something needed to be done for the true victims of theft and loss. What I don’t agree with (at this point until I know more about how this works) is that innocent people who can’t afford or don’t want to sign a contract or to pay full retail value of a phone through a retailer will get caught up in this. Let’s face it, T-Mobile is pushing the BYOD campaign which I’ve always admired, but they just set up a major roadblock to doing so.

  • Jason Crumbley

    I bought my S2 off of Ebay a year ago. After using it for a month or so, I got a call from the
    T-Mobile investigations dept. Apparently there had been a batch of phones reported stolen out of Colorado and they were being activated all over the country. I happened to buy one of them.
    The only reason I was allowed to keep it activated is because I had all the transaction details etc.

    • thepanttherlady

      Kudos to you for keeping the documentation!

  • Jacking mmy

    Yeah sounds great for them, not so great for all the people who try and save a few bucks buying used on Craigslist, only to have their new used phones blacklisted and end up having to buy a new one and are out the money they spent on the used one too

    • Bajamin

      The data base will be open to look up the IMEI. Just look it up before you pay for it.

      • thepanttherlady

        It’s not that easy.

  • Unfit4TheInternet

    Good grief people, have you thought about looking around at what is recommended when you do buy a used phone? Befpre upi buy you call the provider listed on the phone, give them the IMEI number and they will tell you if it’s been reported or not. If it has beem reported as stolen, you tell the seller that you are no longer interested. I did that a year ago when we switched my wife’s phone. I called TMO with the IMEI number and they told me that it wasn’t stolen. If you do get your phone stolen, call TMO and they will track it. They’ve already been tracking them, it’s a no brainer thing to do. The UK has been doing this for, oh, 5 years. Yeah, it may hit the used phone off the market, it’ll get the stolen phones off of the market and have mainly legit sales.

    • thepanttherlady

      The problem is you can call and verify the IMEI # is good, activate the phone then have it a shut down because the person you bought it from turned around and reported it missing. THAT’S the problem most of us are having.

  • chris

    This is so freaking hilarious to me really it is…. This is very very simple be more cautious and don’t get your phone stolen… If it got stolen then guess who the dumb ass is???

    • Hesster

      Because only dumb asses have their purses snatched, get mugged, have their cars and houses broken into or leave their phones out on their desk at work, amirite?

      I’m all for a stolen phone IMEI database, but there are plenty of reasons why someone might have their phone stolen through no fault of their own.

  • This seems unnecessary for those on CDMA networks based on ESN assignments, but can certainly see this being useful for those on GSM networks due to the ease of SIM swaps. Should be interesting to see how this is implemented.

  • Singleweird

    i wish they would grow some balls and report the scumbags to law enforcement instead of just bricking their stolen crap

  • IsItReallyJust4Stolen

    First, my question is “Is this database really just stolen IMEI numbers?” Often people leave AT&T for high bills and unpaid accounts and come to T-Mobile for Monthly4G, if you are on the front lines you know this to be fact. Secondly, this database should not be applied to any handset outside the “stolen” terminology. Thus requiring a submission of a certified police report so that those who make false claims or simply claim it to be “lost” are not blacklisted. Sorry “lost” is NOT the same as “stolen” and does not carry the case of fraud by the reporter like filing a falsified police report. Third, just like someone said, it’s time for a bill of sale, handwritten and signed with a Driver’s License number required. Thus tracking and proper documentation are recorded. Most shops that buy used phones and resale them require such documentation for this very purpose. Insist the same for a personal transaction.

  • setzer715

    I really can’t understand why this is such a problem for people. Do honest SMART business and no one gets scammed. I personally think this is great. it will help reduce phone scams, at least in this country. The harder we make it for the thieves, the better off we are. But for those that think it will make buying and selling tough, it shouldn’t. It’s simple, if your going to sell a phone call your carrier and make sure the phone is free and clear. If it’s not, find out why and fix it. If your going to buy a phone on ebay you have buyers protection. If your going to buy a phone on Craig’s List have the seller meet you at a store and activate it there before paying. If they won’t meet you there they are a scammer.

    This is not rocket science and it should not affect cell phone resales at all. Well, as long as a little intelligence is involved.

  • easy

    verizone already does this. i have seen people meet each other at stores to check the IMEI or MEID