AT&T caters more to iPhone thieves than customers

It’s pretty ridiculous that AT&T, the only wireless phone provider that sells the iPhone, doesn’t have a system in place to prevent stolen iPhones from being activated in-store by the iPhones’ thieves.

I realized this when my friend accidentally left her iPhone on the Metro last Friday night (click here to read about the ordeal). I drove her to the AT&T store, where I listened to the customer service representative tell her that even though she had the serial number and PIN for the phone, they couldn’t do anything about it or even write down her information in the event someone tried to bring her iPhone into the store to be re-activated.

I find this absolutely ridiculous (and unnecessary) for the following reasons:

1. AT&T could easily log the serial numbers of stolen iPhones to prevent thieves from using them. An iPhone is worth $599 retail, so the likelihood that a good samaritan will return it is slimmer than with other cell phones. The fact that someone can take a stolen phone into AT&T to be activated — without question — under the thief’s name is also an incentive.

If it were more difficult to use the iPhone for one’s self, the thief might be more apt to just return it rather than take it to AT&T, where the clerk could look it up and either A) refuse to activate it if the serial number matches a different customer’s name or B) choose to contact police if the serial number matches someone’s stolen phone.

I’m not asking that AT&T customer service reps tackle criminals and try to arrest them — but just like a pawn shop doesn’t accept stolen goods, AT&T shouldn’t accept stolen iPhones from thieves trying to claim them as their own. Right now, AT&T won’t even take your serial number down in the event someone comes and tries to activate it in-store, so they knowingly don’t care if people steal iPhones.

2. They don’t care if people steal iPhones because the person who lost it will likely have to buy another one. AT&T offers the $599 retail-priced phone for a discounted $199 if customers agree to sign a two-year contract with AT&T, which includes signing up for the iPhone data plan for the next two-years. So, if you lose your iPhone, you’ll have to replace it with an iPhone — which will cost you $399 at the cheapest, if you qualify for the AT&T discount price for customers eligible for the middle-ground discount between the full price and inital discount price on your first iPhone purchase.

3. They also don’t care because they are the only cell phone provider who can use iPhones, so if you want the iPhone bad enough then you have to deal with their policies. This actually would be a benefit if they tried to keep track of stolen iPhones, considering they wouldn’t have to coordinate any program or system with other wireless providers.

Does AT&T want to deal with iPhone theft? Of course not — it’s easier for them to wash their hands of it entirely, leave it to the police, and force you to buy more expensive merchandise while likely getting the thief to sign up for a contract of some kind, too. The customer service reps I saw had obviously dealt with this issue before, and they immediately shrugged their shoulders and said the only thing my friend could do was file a police report, which the rep assured her wouldn’t really do anything.

Can AT&T deal with iPhone theft? I think so — it’s not difficult to slap the serial number of an iPhone onto someone’s account, and it’s not difficult to flag the serial number as stolen, preventing anyone but the true owner from using it as a cell phone. While not completely discouraging considering the phone still would function as an iPod, it’s better than the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of mindlessly activating stolen iPhones without hesitation.

Should AT&T deal with iPhone theft? From a consumer point of view, I think they should. I really wanted an iPhone and am already on AT&T’s service, so I figured it would be painless to get one. Knowing that AT&T is completely unhelpful when it comes to the theft of iPhones — a phone they carry exclusively and profit from exclusively — really makes me wonder. I’ve never lost my cell phone, but the iPhone is susceptible to being directly stolen simply because it’s an iPhone.

I have dealt with AT&T and similar companies before, always having to know the last four digits of the social security number of the account holder in order to make any adjustments to my account or information. So why is it that I can’t activate my phone via a landline phone without the account holder’s last four SSN digits, but I can have someone else steal my phone and activate it in person without any extra security features ensuring the activater is legit?

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