AT&T customer stranded in China with no service after her phone was incorrectly reported stolen

ByRenee Koury KGO logo
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
AT&T customer stranded in China with no service after her phone was incorrectly reported stolen
An AT&T customer was vacationing in China, only to be told her phone wasn't working because it was stolen, even though it was right there in her hand.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We've been reporting about a recent surge in thefts of cellphones and laptops. But one Bay Area viewer had just the opposite problem: her phone was reported stolen when it actually wasn't. That led to some scary moments while she was overseas.

"This is me, in front of the temple," says Brenda Chinn of San Francisco.

Chinn took lots of photos while she was in China. She had a perfectly good phone, and a fully paid AT&T service on it. Yet, she found herself stuck while overseas with almost no connection to loved ones back home.

"We were in Shanghai afterwards," she continues.

But taking pictures was about the only thing she could do with her iPhone.

"I couldn't call out, I couldn't receive calls. I couldn't check my email either," Chinn said.

It was a little unnerving, being far from home, without phone service.

"Strangely the only person I could contact was my daughter, by text. I explained to her, I can't contact dad so I'll text you," she added.

It had nothing to do with her location, it was the phone. Somebody had reported it stolen.

"Every time I tried to make a phone call, it would say this device has been blocked," Chinn explained.

Her phone had been blacklisted, entered into a database of stolen phones, which are blocked from getting service.

It's meant to deter theft. But Brenda's phone wasn't stolen.

"I said, I still have it in my hand all the time I was in China," she said.

Luckily she was traveling with a group. So, when their tour bus crashed one day, Brenda wasn't stranded. "Everyone had a phone, they were happy to share it," she told us.

When she got home, she contacted AT&T. Why was her phone blacklisted?

"They just wanted me to prove it really was my phone. I was suspect until then I guess..." Chinn said.

She contacted 7 On Your Side. We asked AT&T to investigate. Turns out a different phone was reported stolen, and its ID number was typed incorrectly into that database. As fate would have it, the incorrect number belonged to Brenda's phone.

AT&T restored her service. It was too late for her travels, but still a relief.

"Thank you, thank you, 7 On Your Side!" she said.

Brenda says it was a little difficult proving she didn't steal her own phone. Luckily she still had the box. So to protect yourself against a blocking mistake, consider keeping that box and your receipt when you buy a phone.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.