How Difficult Is It To Reactivate A Stolen iPhone? Not Very

Picture this: The phones rings, and you check the caller ID and see your girlfriend’s number. With great anticipation you answer the call, but then a gruff masculine “Hello” bellows from the ear piece. What the…? It sounds awkward but that’s what happened to James. His girlfriend’s iPhone was stolen a few weeks ago and the theft was reported to AT&T who had the phone deactivated. However, the new owner of the stolen iPhone had it reactivated and assumed the phone number of James’ girlfriend, thus deactivating James’ girlfriend’s replacement phone. How could this happen? James’ letter, inside…

About a month and a half ago my girlfriend sat down in a booth at the restaurant she manages and her iPhone slipped out of her pocket. She got up from the booth and went back to work when she noticed that it was missing. Upon returning to the booth it was occupied by two male patrons who when queried about the phone denied having seen it. We suspect it’s rather likely that one of the two of them pocketed it, after all who doesn’t want a free iPhone?

We contact AT&T and report the phone as stolen/missing and request that it be deactivated, which they are happy to do. Fast forward to last night she calls me up and explains that her new iPhone is reporting, “no service”. We’re both puzzled but I dismiss it as faulty hardware or just plain crappy signals…this is AT&T we’re talking about after all.

An hour later I decide to send her an SMS text to see if things are back to normal yet. Here’s where things get start to get interesting. I receive a call on my cell phone apparently from my girlfriend, the number matches and the iPhone loads up her picture. I answer assuming it’s her and I hear a male voice on the other end of the line. I do a double take and then inquire as to who this mystery man is. He explains that he’s Joe Blow from Victorville (more than 100 miles from where the phone was stolen/missing from) and that I’m texting him on, “his iPhone”. I explain to him that it isn’t his iPhone, it’s stolen property that was deactivated by AT&T the better part of 1.5 months ago.

Long story short is, he’s bummed his attempts to rip the phone off didn’t go so smoothly. He’s out $50 and feels like simply giving it back to us. Ok fine, whatever I say keep it. So here’s the meat of the story…

The phone was reported stolen, AT&T de-authorized the phone effectively taking it off the network and flagging it as missing/stolen. The reason my girlfriends phone stopped working yesterday is because somehow this kid managed to trot himself in to an AT&T store and got them to re-activate the stolen phone and in the process got her new phone de-activated!?

We had to call AT&T customer support and explain this whole situation to them. They promptly de-activated Joe Blow’s re-activated stolen iPhone but were unfortunately unable to put her legitimate iPhone back into service. We were forced to come into a branch store this morning and exchange the SIM card for a new one.

The agents at AT&T assert that they have no way to ascertain how it is that someone with NO personal information on my girlfriend was able to have her stolen cell phone re-activated 100+ miles away from home. I assert that a company the size of AT&T must have a fairly sophisticated system for cell phone activation and de-activation. They honestly can’t tell what store or branch the phone was re-activated at? They can’t tell us which sales associated knowingly re-activated a stolen phone on an existing customers account?

Thankfully he didn’t run up a big bill, we managed to get the phone shut off (for the 2nd time) in fairly short order. I’m still fuming however that some random Joe off the street can waltz into an AT&T branch or affiliate store and re-activate a phone reported stolen 1.5 months ago with little or no effort and ZERO paper trail (according to AT&T). Something stinks and I think it’s AT&T’s customer service…

We’re happy to hear you finally got it straightened out, James. Given the fact that iPhones are stolen every day, we would hope there would be more safeguards in place to prevent someone from activating a stolen phone with the same number. We also find it strange that AT&T can’t or won’t tell you where the stolen phone was activated. We’d like to see AT&T be more proactive when it comes to protecting its customers. iPhone theft is rampant enough without AT&T accommodating the thieves.

(Photo: Getty)