US Carriers Form Alliance To Stop The Sale Of Stolen/Lost Phones Once and For All


Used smartphone buyers, who prefer to save a little dough by purchasing previously owned smartphones off eBay and Craigslist, may soon find little risk involved. WSJ reported today that the 4 major wireless networks in the US are teaming up with the FCC to stop the sale of stolen/lost phones once and for all. Apparently, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile all have plans to create a common database that will deny both voice and data services to devices that come up flagged as stolen or lost.

At first, carriers will come up with their own databases and sometime within the next 18 months, those databases will be pooled into one centralized repository. Currently, only Sprint as Verizon blacklist stolen/lost devices, and only within their respective networks (I’ve also heard talk that T-Mobile has finally begun blacklisting IMEI’s ahead of this announcement). A stolen phone on Sprint, for instance, can still be brought to a MetroPCS store for activation. However this wont be the case for long with even smaller, regional carriers getting in on this new database. This should not only effectively end the sale of stolen/lost devices forever, but those would-be opportunists, looking to cash-in on a deal.

What do you guys think? Is this a great idea that could lead to less insurance claims and bystanders who actually return lost devices? Can you find some kind of negative impact this could have on consumers?


Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. They’ll just start shipping stolen devices out of the country.

  2. i’d rather just have a sliver of C4 build into the phone that i can remote detonate and kill the thief with.  

    1. Semtex is better. More powerful by weight, it’s much lighter than C4, very malleable, and easy to put into a phone. Why the hell am I telling you this?

  3. This isn’t so bad.  There’s some satisfaction in knowing if someone steals your phone it’ll be nothing more than a paperweight to them.  I don’t think this is an attack on used phone sales however, just lost/stolen which is perfectly okay.

    1. unless you know he takes it to Mexico.

    2.  The problem is that the thief is not the one who’s screwed.  The one who’s screwed is the one that answers the thief’s ad on Craigslist or eBay, meets the thief in a grocery store parking lot, pays $450 cash for a phone, and then can’t use it because the ESN has been tagged as stolen.  The thief is long gone by then and has already spent the $450.

  4. This is good but won’t stop stupid criminals.

    1. i think it will stop stupid criminals, it just wont stop the smart ones.

  5. sounds like a smart thief will learn how to start taking the devices apart and selling all but the chipboard. They’ll find some way around part of it…..

  6. Don’t buy a before without activating it at a store…duh

  7. HTC One X on Daily Steals for $629, unlocked international version

  8. sounds good to me, hopefully criminals will catch on and see that is isn’t worth it to steal cell phones anymore. But unfortunately there will always be dumb criminals and  citizens out there that will fall prey to a good deal and buy a stolen cell phone. Plus thieves still sell stuff for parts. 

  9. i bought a htc amaze off craigslist and it got blacklisted after 2 months. t-mobile is already blacklisting phones. 

    1. Yeah, I had a friend who works with T-Mobile telling me the same thing. I think they’re just starting to roll it out.. 

  10. Its about time

  11. So if your phone’s ID ends up in the blacklist database and it’s not stolen, then what?  All databases get messed up sometimes.

    1. Doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to prove to the company that you have the phone and that you’re the one who paid for it.

      1. Maybe, but will they care?  You should expect the answer to be no.  Unless regulated and compelled to to do so by law, I expect there will be no recourse.  Carriers have proven over the years that they are untrustworthy and consumer hostile.  Why remove a phone from the blacklist when it will cost them time and money to do it?  They would rather sell you a brand new phone with a new two year contract.

    2. i work at a dealer, and i have seen this on the sprint/assurion side of things, although it is quite rare. it usually involves sitting on the phone with sprint care or assurion care for about 2 hours, then waiting the 48 hours for your device to be turned back on, but as always, depends who ya get on the other side of the phone.

  12. It’s about time ! I was just reading yesterday about the huge numbers of people assaulted everyday for their tech gadgets, and how the carriers and manufacturers were turning a blind eye in the name of sales/profits.


    This makes it sound like a timeline they will waffle on for “technical reasons: “sometime within the next 18 months, those databases will be pooled”.

    AND… I guess phones can still be shipped out of country if it’s just a US thing.

    Negative: What if you bought a phone in good faith before this program is active and end up with a useless device ?

    And, will this be co-ordinated with a Bad ESN etc. registry so that lack of payments on one carrier will render the phone useless on other carriers ? That will earn the carriers and manufacturers more sales/profits won’t it ?

    1. It’s international. The same information was on the news here in Costa Rica a month ago. 

  13. Their not stopping the sale, their (planning on) stopping the activations.  What we really need is some way for sellers to prove ownership and buyers to claim ownership at the time of sale.

    1. ^That!

  14. I love it! At least it’s a good start!!

  15. I smell a lawsuit.  Seriously… this is a bad idea. :(  Good intentions, bad idea.

  16. “Sprint as Verizon” ??? u mean and?

  17. Hmm I wonder how many non stolen/lost phones will magically make their way onto this list for reasons other then being lost or stolen…… o_O?

  18. Pretty damn pointless since it can easily be bypassed 

  19. I bought my phone on craigslist and if it was stolen then im out of luck… But the guy I bought it from already has my money… why is this a good idea again. The thrifty consumer loses in this scenerio.

    1. The thrifty consumer will resist the urge to buy used phones from unknown sources with no proof of purchase. Theft will not pay. Phones will no longer be easy, profitable targets.

      People who do want to sell a used phone will either have to demonstrate purchase or sell the phone to a middleman who would have the incentive to buy only legitimately sourced phones or at least require an ID in case the phone is later reported as stolen.

  20. The same is happening here in Costa Rica. Databases are going to be shared on the same repositories I guess, since they said it’s going to be a worldwide thing and they mentioned carriers from the U.S. It’s supposed to start this month, and to report your phone as stolen/lost you have to call your carrier, give them your IMEI and/or the approximate time of your last phone call besides your ID Number (or passport/driver’s license number).
    We don’t have CDMA networks so ESN cloning is not an issue.

  21. This will do nothing to stop theft.  Phones will be stolen to steal your private information from sdcard and internal memory.  Lock screens and PIN codes do nothing when memory modules are physically pulled.  Smart phones are not universally encrypted, so they will continue to be stolen with the hope that there’s stuff on it that they can use or sell.  This looks more and more like a consumer-hostile move by the carriers.

    1. It will do something, the vast majority of smartphone stealing is to sell it to someone and make a quick buck, it’s much safer and easier for the crook than identity theft, so theft will decrease.

  22. Wow America gets this NOW?
    UK. Had this like 10years ago…

  23. So basically the victim in this case is the poor buyer who was trying save a few dollars and avoid the commitment with carriers….while carriers’ sales increase.

  24. The only way this can really protect the consumer is if they are able to check the phone’s info against this database BEFORE they buy it. Then, of course, they still have to be vigilant and make sure to confirm the info on the actual device matches what they were told before they hand over the cash. So it can really only offer true protection if you are making the sale in person. So I say a step in the right direction…..but we still have a long way to go.

  25. All this is going to do is make the that have stolen or lost phone change the coding the iemi number to a different phone legal to do or not it will happen likely cloning a cdma phone. I do think its a good idea but its another thing to keep honest people honest like a lock on your house if someone is going to be dishonest they it will still happen

  26. Think this is a good idea, but as with any good idea, better ideas to get around them always surface….it’s just a matter of time.

  27. Hell ya they needed this 4 year’s ago.

  28. But what incentive are they giving people to return phones that they find (not stole mind you). Because I honestly believe that when a someone returns the phone to the store they just take those phones un-blacklist them and just resell them as reburbished… This ban is so they can just reprofit. I think if they gonna start doing this then the shouldn’t charge the person who lost their phone a fee for a new one that way all parties win. The carrier gets the phone that they will resell and the poor person who lost their phone wont be charged

  29. Sounds like a good idea to me.

  30. Can’t you easily spoof an IMEI anyways?

  31. Let me preface this with a message, I have been known to see things as a ‘cynic’.

    The real use for this DB is removing the 2nd-hand (used) market and keeping the ‘honest people’ honest.

    Alas, these are merely my own personal speculations.  

  32. I think it’s a good idea, though it will likely increase the cost of the phones I buy on ebay, my only request is this, make the database searchable online so that ebay sellers can list the imei and buyers can verify that it’s not stolen before they buy.
    Or have ebay provide a direct link to the database to verify phones are valid for activation.

    Valid used phone sales is my only concern.

  33. im on sprint so ive been dealing with the risk of purchasing lost or stolen phones for a while now. Sprint blacklists the ESN (electronic serial number) as soon as the phone is reported lost or stolen. teh ESN is needed to activate a phone on a account. if the phone has been deactivated by the original owner properly then it can be reused or resold by the original owner.

    When buying used phones its possible to look up the ESN to see if its good or not or have sprint check it for you. if its not good, then you cant activate it. if it is you will have no issues. People who blindly buy used phones without checking the status of it deserve to be ripped off. It rasther simple to verfiy before you buy.

    But with the tho GSM sim card swap in go you guys arent exposed to this.

  34. Looks like I’ll be meeting people at the cell store for craiglist purchases when this kicks in!

  35. So how long until this morphs into an alliance to stop the resale of used phones?

  36. Just curious… whats to stop someone from selling their legit phone on Craigslist, pocketing the cash, reporting the phone stolen, then getting a new device on insurance?   It will appear as a legit ESN until the day you buy it and is reported “stolen”.  As someone mentioned before.. need a way to officially transfer ownership, and establish ownership.  

  37. I will continue to buy from craigslist, and will just insert my SIM card before completing the sale to ensure that the phone works… or am I missing something?

  38. Let’s make a bonfire of preowned phones. Hey….it worked with Garth Brooks CDs.

  39. Seriously, way to join the 20th century US providers.  The GSM standard has always had this.  Its called an Equipment Identity Register or EIR.  Stolen IMEI’s go into its DB and every X times you turn the phone  on or roam to a new coverage area this DB is checked and the phone is then blocked.  The 3GPP2 standards was going to include as well but not sure if they did.

    By not doing this carriers make more money from sales of phones but I’m sure that’s not why they haven’t implemented it.

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