U.S. carriers band together to form database of stolen phones

AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint have agreed to create a shared database of stolen cellphones in order to lock them down and reduce resale value. Once a phone is identified as stolen, carriers would be able to block it from getting service from any of the service providers. Over the next six months,  AT&T and T-Mobile will develop databases like the ones Sprint and Verizon already have in place, then in the following year, they'll all be integrated, and smaller regional carriers will follow suit afterwards. We all know that the iPhone is a hot commodity in the shady crowd, and with LTE becoming more prevalent, it makes simply unlocking a phone and popping in a new SIM card very easy.

It's entirely possible that anyone unwittingly buying a stolen iPhone may be unfairly cut off from service, but at least this shared database should deter anyone from knowingly purchasing burgled handsets. If SIM cards are going to be tied to particular devices, this system also has the potential to block legitimate SIM-swapping, but the details of the shared database have yet to be nailed down.

Research data shows that of the 26,000 electronics robberies in New York in the first 10 months of 2011, 86% were of cellphones.

The U.K., France, Germany, and Australia are already implementing something like this, and have seen some reasonable success in reducing phone theft. Apple's Find my iPhone app has already proven useful in recovering stolen iOS gadgets, but it's not enough if a thief is wily enough to keep it powered down before popping out the SIM card. That said, do the pros of a shared database of stolen iPhones outweigh the potential con of further-restricted SIM card slot?

Source: WSJ

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Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.

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Reader comments

U.S. carriers band together to form database of stolen phones


Locking a phone via its IMEI does not outweigh the benefits of a SIM card. Please note its not LTE that introduced SIM-cards, its GSM which has had them for years. SIM-Cards are used in all phones in Europe, hence why this has been done in many countries with successful results.

the article is simply stating that LTE is bring sim cards to carriers who traditionally never used them. So with this new system, all carriers will be using sim cards since they all are going LTE so they need something like this in play to keep theft down and people just taking a phone and putting their sim in.

Its about time they did something like this. My daughter had an iPhone stolen from her bag at school. Irks me to death that who ever got it just switched out the sim and lived happily ever after.

I feel for people who have had their iPhones stolen but I don't not want restrictions on SIM cards. I like upgrading my iPhone every year and swapping SIMs makes that possible. Now if it were possible I could still swap SIMs as I do now then I have no problem with a database.

I don't like this idea. Technically speaking this is a way for the cell phone companies to continue making a large amount of money because now people who want a new phone has to come to them. This service does not to help the person who has their phone stolen except slightly deters it. Which sounds good on paper but if you had your phone stolen it doesn't help you. You still have to use insurance or buy another phone.

Umm, the idea is that it is a deterrent, as thieves generally don't steal things that aren't worth anything or are too hard to move. No it doesn't help the person who's phone was stolen, it helps prevent that from happening in the first place.
When you buy a phone, you already have to go to some carrier, unless you just want to use it as an iPod (then just buy the iPod). What it could hurt is used phone sales if there isn't a good way for the public to check.

No, once people realize stolen phones are useless, they will stop buying them. Who this might hurt is the used market, as people will be more wary of buying used. They could implement a way for the general public to check, as well, so that someone considering buying used could check first.

in France there is something to block stolen iPhones, but it is not applied most of the time and it is still possible to use a stolen phone in a country out of France !
This is something that should be dealed at Apple side to be useful ! If a stolen iPhone is impossible to use in any country, it could have a chance to reduce the number of iPhone stolen ...
But honestly, in France, it is still quite unsafe to show your iPhone in some places (nothing has changed) ...

You should want your carrier to implement this forthwith, as Verizon and Sprint already have. As it stands now, Sprint and Verizon will not activate a given phone on their network after it has been reported stolen. This fact reduces the resale value of stolen Verizon and Sprint phones to nearly ZERO, acting as a deterent to theft in the first place. At present, AT&T and T-Mobile track handsets exclusively via their SIM's, with no authentication of the handset the SIM is installed in, so they offer no such protection to their customers.

Near zero? Not quite. Bad ESN Verizon iphones sell on ebay all the time. There's only about a $100 discount compared to a good phone.

If you buy a used phone off eBay, you would be able to get your money back if you ran into problems like this right? I don't buy crap off Craigslist because there is no control. At least eBay is regulated and provides protection to buyers.

A system like this has been working I europe for many years, you can change sim as you like but when a phone is registered as stolen no sim will work in the phone and it will never be able to connect to a mobile network.
If a sim is put into a stolen phone, it's possible to find the owner of that sim and maybe recover the phone