What happens to stolen iphones?
September 30, 2012 4:36 AM   Subscribe

I am from the U.S. -- my iphone4s was stolen in a touristy area of Barcelona earlier this week. No calls were made on the phone in the hours before I suspended my (at&t) account and changed my gmail etc. passwords. It was not passcode locked/ didn't have tracking apps, but as far as I could tell it wasn't used. My question is: What "typically/usually" happens to such stolen phones? are they wiped and used as cameras/itouch?
posted by mrmarley to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They get wiped and sold as phones.why do you think it would only be used as an ipod/camera?
posted by jacalata at 5:12 AM on September 30, 2012

My guess... Three pathways are open for the stolen phone:
  1. Thief is an opportunist, and will keep the phone for themselves (as an ipod etc) or sell it off for a small profit. At which point...
  2. Phones are wiped and hacked with new IMEI identities, OR
  3. Phones are broken down into their constituent parts which are then either sold off piecemeal, or recombined with parts from other phones.
It's all about the IMEI really. With some older models of iPhone it's relatively easy to change these. Wait around long enough and a 4S hack will probably surface.
posted by 0bvious at 5:31 AM on September 30, 2012

Sorry, didn't think of the European angle. I guess a European thief might assume that it will eventually be blacklisted, and either try and sell it quickly while it works, or change it/break it down for parts. Or there's plenty of gullible consumers who could probably be sold an IMEI blocked phone pretty easily.

However IMEI blocking is not common/the default in the USA - AT&T only agreed to start doing so and to work towards a shared USA carrier blacklist this year, and I would be surprised if they plan to share it with European carriers. In the USA it would most likely remain a usable phone and simply be sold as such. Because it's from the USA, I don't believe there is any way for you to get it blocked in Europe. (Hypothetically, a really organised thief might target American tourists for this reason.)
posted by jacalata at 6:53 AM on September 30, 2012

Yeah, they get wiped and sold as phones for a quick sale either through word of mouth or through websites like Craigslist or the equivalent to Kijji.
posted by livinglearning at 7:08 AM on September 30, 2012

A few years ago, my partners smartphone was stolen in a touristy part of London. She reported it immediately to the phone company, so she was in the clear liability-wise but for what ever reason they didn't block or kill the SIM. The next day it was used to make multiple hour-long calls to Algeria from the UK. So based on that experience, it seems like it was sold on quickly as a cheap phone with free calls.
posted by outlier at 3:56 AM on October 1, 2012

If your question is general enough to include CDMA phones in USA (instead of GSM phones in Europe), I can tell you 2 things: Sprint has long had a policy of only activating a used phone if it has a "clean ESN" (IE - it hasn't been reported stolen), so a stolen phone is no good on Sprint. However - the carrier MetroPCS uses CDMA phones and will let a used Sprint phone be used on their network. The Sprint phone needs to be "flashed" to MetroPCS, and there are hundreds of ads on Craigslist offering to perform that service for you. So - stolen Sprint phones are very often used on MetroPCS.
posted by CathyG at 1:56 PM on October 1, 2012

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