AT&T takes steps to fight cell phone theft

July 6, 2012 10:38:14 PM PDT
Four out of five robberies in San Francisco involve a cell phone. Now, one phone company is taking steps to stop that.

Of all the things Antoine Brooks wanted to spend money on this week, a brand new smart phone wasn't one of them. A few days ago, a teenager robbed him on a San Francisco Muni train. "And he just reached down and grabbed the phone, and he took off like he was a world class track star," Brooks said.

Pouring over crime reports, San Francisco's police chief Greg Suhr says it's a common story. "Six robberies, five involve some sort of a phone. So, and that's every single day," Suhr said.

A lot of the phones are sold for hundreds of dollars to people who take them right back into the store and reactivate them.

Suhr has been leading the charge to stop that. "If the cell phones were rendered useless, as they do in other countries, Australia for example, there would be no market for the resale of these cell phones," he said.

Now, AT&T has finally answered that request announcing that just like Sprint and Verizon, they'll blacklist your phone if you report it stolen so no one else can activate it.

Experts say this couldn't come soon enough for the nearly two-thirds of iPhone users on AT&T. Compared to the other carriers, AT&T uses a different network technology that until now has made it easier to erase and resell one of these phones without getting caught. "You just take a paper clip, push it in there and a SIM card comes out. And that's the SIM card. This little guy is the phone's identity," VentureBeat executive editor Dylan Tweney said.

Tweney says thieves have swapped out SIM cards for years, but now, just like the other carriers, AT&T will start using an internal serial number. "Assuming that the previous owner had reported it as stolen, then Verizon would say sorry, no this is stolen, we can't reactivate it," he said. What they won't do is erase your phone.

"If my phone gets stolen, I'm more worried about somebody accessing my contacts list, the websites I visit," CNET senior managing editor Kent German said. German recommends you install a remote wipe application, so if you're ever a victim of phone theft you can prevent it from becoming identity theft.


Load Comments