Thursday, November 01, 2012

Stolen Phone Database Now Live

Earlier this year the FCC alongside all of the major US cell phone providers brokered a deal to create a stolen phone database that would allow the tracking, and blocking of phones reported to have been stolen. The first of these services, managed by AT&T and T-Mobile has gone live today.

The stolen phone program works like this: A phone is reported stolen and the IMEI, a unique identification number in the cellphone, is entered into the database and then blocked. This ID number remains with the cellphone no matter what SIM card is used or what a user does to the phone. If the thief, or other unsuspecting user, tries to use that phone with their new SIM card or tries to get new service on that phone they won't be able to.

"The goal is to not only protect the consumer by cancelling the service, but by ultimately protecting the consumer by drying up the after market for stolen phones," said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA, a wireless industry trade association that has coordinated efforts to introduce the database.

Verizon and Sprint are working to offer their own databases which will eventually be combined with the AT&T and T-Mobile databases so that the vast majority of U.S. cellphone users will be covered. Smaller carriers like Nex-Tech and Cellcom are also getting on board the database. There are also plans to link it with an international database maintained by the GSM Association to stop stolen phones being shipped overseas and used on foreign networks.

The goal behind the database is to hopefully prevent the theft of mobile phones by making it less attractive to criminals. The thought is that if its harder (or near impossible) to activate the phones then there will be less motivation to take them.

While the phone database may eventually be a great deterrent to stop thieves it isn't a stop all. CTIA president and CEO Steve Largent pointed out that most users now store a large amount of personal data on their smartphones - from photos and videos to banking information and emails.   

"While the GSM and CDMA databases are important, consumers also play a key role in protecting their information and preventing smartphone theft," Largent continued. "By using passwords or PINs, as well as remote wiping capabilities, consumers can help to dry up the aftermarket for stolen devices. It's important consumers know that by taking simple precautions, such as downloading a few apps, they can protect their information from unauthorized users," he said.

AT&T customers may report a stolen phone and suspend their service online at, at an AT&T store, or by contacting AT&T Customer Care at 1-800-331-0500. Within 24 hours, AT&T will block the use of a device reported as stolen.

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