Lawsuit claims AT&T "aided, abetted, and assisted" iPhone thieves

Lawsuit claims AT&T "aided, abetted, and assisted" iPhone thieves

Summary: The lawsuit further claims that by reactivating these handsets AT&T and other carriers have earned "unfair and illegal profits" that have "amounted to many millions of dollars each year, for the past several years."


A class-action lawsuit [PDF] has been filed against AT&T alleging the company "actively and without reservation aided, abetted, and assisted" iPhone thieves by allowing the stolen handsets to be reactivated on its network.

This lawsuit comes days after the news that carriers in the U.S. -- including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile USA -- will create a new database that will prevent handsets that have been reported as lost or stolen from being reconnected to the network.

Despite this, the three plaintiffs feel that they still have a case against AT&T and yet unnamed "Doe Corporation Entities" that were "in some way legally or proximately responsible" for "actively and without reservation aided, abetted, and assisted thieves" by "turning back on" stolen handsets.

The lawsuit goes on to outline how the carrier does this without checking with the registered owner of the handset, despite having these details on record.

"Each such cellular device is identifiable, as a hand-held cell phone, by the IMEI imprinted on the same, and said serial number is readily visible to, and apparent to, an and all stores, businesses, and Defendant employees when the device is activated or a new cell phone usage plan is turned on by defendants."

The lawsuit further claims that by reactivating these handsets AT&T and other carriers have earned "unfair and illegal profits" that have "amounted to many millions of dollars each year, for the past several years."

The plaintiffs also claim to have been told by AT&T representatives that "they will not, and cannot, block and effectively kill usage of such stolen cell phones by thieves and criminal organizations, going on to add that "such representations are false and fraudulent."

According to an AT&T spokesperson, the suit itself is "without merit, but criminals stealing smartphones is a serious issue, which is why earlier this week we joined with law enforcement, the FCC and other wireless carriers to announce additional steps to provide a comprehensive industry and government response to the problem of wireless device theft."


Topics: Hardware, iPhone, Legal, Mobility, Networking, AT&T, Wi-Fi

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  • Hmm

    I wonder if this is just ticked off users or somebody trying to get AT&T to bail on the blacklist.
    • AT&T

      Has pissed off many people, they are a horrible company overall and a horrible company to deal with.
  • Sounds like the lawsuit against fast food for making people fat

    Somehow according to the logic of this idiots, AT&T colluded with criminals, gave them their address and itinerary of the buyers ... just so they can steal their phones.

    Seriously, one thing is saying they are not doing enough to help people recover the stolen goods, another is claiming that the companies are aiding the criminals.
    • I disagree

      Although I am not a fan of malicious lawsuits, I do think that there is some liability on the part of AT&T in allowing a stolen phone to be re-used. Think of it this way, you have just finished using your phone after leaving a coffee shop and then suddenly you are accosted by some thugs who relieve you of your phone. You paid good money for that phone and now you no longer have it. Sure you cancel it, but the thug goes and registers it. He/she has to pay a carrier for the right to use that phone on said carrier's network. The carrier is getting paid for that service that is being provided on a stolen phone. I think the lawsuit is looking to have stolen phones rendered useless once the company knows it has been reported stolen. Will it ever stop the issue of people getting robbed for their phones? Maybe not, but at least it won't make it easy for the said thief.
      • I know is hard to understand but ....

        FACT: Just because a person claims that their phone was stolen does not mean that AT&T has the legal right to disconnect that phone from the "grid". It will take a court order for them to legally do what they are asking.

        So in the end, it is up to the person to follow the correct legal procedure to get what they want.
      • @wackoae

        Why? A user reports that *their* phone has been stolen and requests that *their* IMEI is locked. Why does that need a court order?

        As long as the person can prove that it is their account, I don't see a problem. If I walked into an AT&T store and gave them 20 IMEIs to lock, without identifying myself, then yes, it is suspicious and they shouldn't do it. But if I can identify myself and get the phone registered on my account locked, I don't see a problem or a need for the courts to get involved.

        AFAIK, this has been available over here since the mid 90s...

        On the other hand, walking into an Apple Store in the UK with an iPhone which has been disabled (IMEI blocked), Apple will swap it out against a new one, as long as it is under warranty!

        And the insurance company will then refuse to pay out, because, according to Apple, the phone has already been replaced!

        Yet the police seem reluctant to charge Apple with receiving stolen goods or aiding and abetting...
      • Show me the law

        that says a company is obligated to discontinue service and support of a stolen item. I do not think one exists.

        Don't get me wrong I think AT&T and other companies need to try and do whatever they can to take items reported stolen and prevent services to discourage thieves, but claiming that AT&T aided the thieves in stealing the phone in the first place is ridiculous.
      • 'Some Liability'??

        Hahahaha...if I sell you a phone and a week later you report it stolen (to me) and then someone else tries to activate that same phone, my ETHICS would kick in at that point and I would not activate that phone unless I first contacted the registered owner.

        Consider I already know these facts:
        1) I have a record of selling you the phone.
        2) I know the phone's address.
        3) I have the phone's address associated with the original purchaser.
        4) I have been notified by you that your phone has been stolen. All it would take for me to track down the thief (or unsuspecting customer who purchased it from said thief) would be to make a note in the records that this is a stolen phone.
        5) A customer attempts to activate the same phone.

        OK here's the $64 question ....
        ~~What would YOU do?~~

        A) Take the customer's money, activate the phone, fail to notify the original owner of the phone that someone is trying to activate it, and force the original purchaser to buy a new phone.


        B) Notify the customer attempting to activate the phone that this phone has been reported stolen and cannot be activated, repossess the phone and return it to its rightful owner. No attempt to profit from this situation would be attempted.

        Honestly, I'm GLAD they are being sued for this. The allegations are spot on, and I hope that all phone carriers are made to account for this 'profiteering'.
      • If they steal my car, the DMV can't lawfully register it to somebody else

        It is like if my car is stolen. If the DMV restisters it to somebody else, knowing that it is stolen, they are breaking the law. A court order isn't required on my part to 'prevent' the car being registered to somebody else. However, it would require a court order for the thief to attempt to register the car in their name.

        Maybe AT&T should require the 'court order' for thieves to activate reported stolen phones and not the victims.

        AT&T's excuse about not being able to make a stolen phone un-activatable (new word) is a phony excuse. Sprint just recently rendered a phone un-activatable when the phone owner hacked into my Sprint account and changed my account from my phone to theirs. The hacker then attempted to add international calling to my account. Luckily, they lost connection, and Sprint called my phone to continue the conversation. That is when we first discovered the fraud. A day later, the hacker was succesful. I contacted Sprint fraud division. They switched the account back to my phone and rendered the hacker's phone useless. I would assume the hacker's phone was probably stolen (if not, I hope they paid a lot of money for it). It is totally useless now since they used it in a commission of a crime (fraud). Had the new stolen phone database been set up and running, and if that phone was reported stolen, they wouldn't have be able to switch my account to it.
      • RE: If they steal my car the DMV Cannot Register it

        Yes and that is a government controlled organization. It doesn't mean that mechanics are obligated to not do work on the stolen car or part stores are obligated to not sell parts for that stolen car. There is a law in effect for the DMV to follow.

        I guess all that one can hope to get out of this is that law be made into effect for cell phones and other electronic devices that can be stolen. It still doesn't mean AT&T aided any thief to steal anything.
      • I've asked the same thing below

        But I want to make sure I didn't miss anything. Where is the proof of wrongdoing? What proof do these people have that AT&T reactivated [i]their[/i] stolen iPhones? Is it just their word? How would anyone know what happens to their iPhone once it's stolen and presumably wiped? That handy "Find My iPhone" app is gone if the device is wiped remotely, via 10 incorrect logins (if that setting is enabled), or wiped by the thief. Without that app installed the phone cannot be tracked by the rightful owner.

        So how do they know their stolen iPhones were reactivated on AT&T's network?
      • @wright_is

        Do you have any proof of this claim: [b]

        On the other hand, walking into an Apple Store in the UK with an iPhone which has been disabled (IMEI blocked), Apple will swap it out against a new one, as long as it is under warranty!

        And the insurance company will then refuse to pay out, because, according to Apple, the phone has already been replaced!

        I'd like to see it if you have it.
      • Valid counterpoint

        I have personally watched someone sell a phone that is theirs on ebay, was actually the one to purchase it myself, then the next day when I was a CSR they called in and reported the phone stolen. I compared the ebay email address to the one on the account that I was processing a stolen report on and they matched.

        Responding to another point in the article, about that they were just now establishing a database of IMEIs reported stolen, I know such a database has been maintained for a few years, and made available to police upon following proper procedure, my guess is now it's being transferred to a different database/server that the police will have constant access to.
      • @NonFanBoy

        The British tech press covered the story back at the beginning of March.

        Bah! Posts with links are disappearing.

        PC Pro Magazin ( blogs, 2012 March 06.
    • Hardly the same situation

      The way I read the suit would be more as if AT&T or any other provider re-activating a phone without due diligence to identify it as stolen would be the legal equivalent to a pawnbroker buying items and reselling them without bothering to check if the goods were stolen. Unlike many other stolen items, it's hard to remove the serial number/IMEI from a smartphone. You do realize that it is illegal to deal in stolen property? As one story suggested, a cell provider re-activating stolen phones could be construed as cell phone equivalent of a chop shop?

      One of my sisters-in-law had this happen to her. Her phone was stolen, she reported it as stolen and paid for a replacement phone. 3 months later, the police department contacted her that they had recovered her cell phone. When she finally received it back, she found it had been re-activated by the same nameless carrier (think Death Star logo) that she was using at that time. When she contacted them, the excuse was that they had no way of easily checking that the cellphone was a stolen item at the time it was re-activated.

      In the US, it is even nastier since Verizon and AT&T have incompatible networks making it more likely that you would have to re-activate with the same provider who would already have that cell phones information in their systems.
  • The real way they make the money....

    ATT does not care that they can identify your phone and block it. They win on both side if they allow it back on. 1st, you will need to purchase your replacement. Whether via insurance money you received or your own cash, they sell you the new phone. In fact, I am surprised the provider of the lost phone insurance has not gone after them. Then, on the ohter hand, if they activate it, they have an even richer profit stream. They have a new account, paying monthly fees, and they have absolutely no subsidy they are paying against on this new revenue stream. Month to month profit right from the get-go.... Why whouldn't they let teh stolen phone back on? And, if you are on the two year contract, you are obligated to relace that phone an pay monthly or you are charged the early disconnection costs. E V I L ! ! !
    • You are correct.

      My wife's iPhone was stolen and per their policy, they will continue to charge you for the mandatory data plan even though you no longer can use the phone. When I told the that I was not going to pay for a data plan I can no longer use, they shut off the service. ATT is the worst carrier to deal with.

      Well, I got a new provider that day. If you are smart, you will dump ATT immediately, if not sooner.
      linux for me
  • It's time to buy it will save your more money.

    It's time to buy

    it will save your more money.
  • that is why I do not deal with ATT

    When our Nook was stolen out of a hotel room while on vacation, I called B&N, and they disactivated the device with no problem whatsoever.
    I had issues with ATT some 11 years ago over $8 charge, and I wowed to never come near them again. As I can see, nothing changed.
  • Add this to the Text Slamming...

    ...that's allowed to take place, and you have serious corporate malfeasance.