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Class Action Suit Against AT&T Alleges Aiding Cell Phone Thieves

iPhone, iPhone 3G and 3GS

iPhone, iPhone 3G and 3GS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many people, I have an iPhone and there is rarely a more disturbing moment than when someone I know loses their iPhone due to negligence (leaving it somewhere) or theft (thinking you left it somewhere when someone really took it).  If you're in love with the phone, you go out and plop down a premium price for a new one ... but what happened to the one you lost?

This question is being posed in a class action lawsuit against AT&T by those who have had their phones taken/lost then reactivated by AT&T by the would-be thief/finder of the phone.  The suit, filed in Sacremento, CA, says that AT&T aided and abetted cellphone thieves by reactivating stolen phones, particularly iPhones, and faudulently told customers that it "cannot" block calls to and from the stolen phones.  Customers, as a result, had to buy a new phone from AT&T....and in the process AT&T got a new customer (the thief)...a win-win for AT&T.

AT&T should be able to identify a stolen phone.  Each cellphone and iPhone is registered to the purchaser when it is purchased by way of an International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) number.  Even so, the "not-original" owner of the iPhone could walk into an AT&T store and re-activate the devices by getting a new SIM card.  Hey, it's a new customer with a used iPhone !!!

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced that is has formed an agreement with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint to cut down on phone theft by developing a database of stolen phones that would be used to prevent re-activation of stolen phones.  Such database programs are currently in use in the U.K.  Within 6 months, U.S. cell phone owners will be able to call their provider if their device is stolen and the carrier will lock it down and prevent it from being used.  It begs the question, why wasnt' this done a long time ago?

Forbes' Kashmir Hill reported that AT&T does not think much of the lawsuit stating, "The suit itself is without merit, but criminals stealing smartphones is a serious issue, which is why earlier this week we joined with law enforcement, the FCC and other wireless carriers to announce additional steps to provide a comprehensive industry and government response to the problem of wireless device theft," an AT&T spokesman said.

It is an issue when "theft" of the cell phone results in a profit for AT&T....perhaps in the same way that underage drinking and smoking make up a significant amount of business for alcohol and tobacco companies.  Oh the decisions that these companies must make on a daily basis to meet the minimum of corporate responsibility/accountability.

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