SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - AT&T has aided and abetted cellphone thieves for years by reactivating stolen phones, particularly iPhones, and fraudulently telling customers that it "cannot" block calls to and from the stolen phones - so customers will have to buy new ones - a class action claims in Superior Court.
The class claims AT&T does this "in order to make millions of dollars in improper profits, by forcing legitimate customers ... to buy new cell phones, and buy new cell phone plans, while the criminals who stole the phone are able to simply walk into AT&T stores and 're-activate' the devices, using different, cheap, readily available 'SIM' cards (computer chips)."
Hilary White and two other named plaintiffs sued AT&T for conspiracy, fraud, breach of contract, accessory to theft, unfair trade and other charges.
They claim: "On a regular daily basis in California and elsewhere, the cell phones, Apple Computer Corporation 'iPhones' in particular, are stolen by criminals from lawful purchasers and users."
Each cellphone and iPhone is registered to the purchaser when he or she buys it, via an International Mobile Equipment Identification, or IMEI number, about 15 digits long.
"Each such cellular device is identifiable, as a handheld cell phone, by the IMEI imprinted on same, and said serial number is readily visible to, and apparent to, any and all stores, businesses, and defendant employees when the device is activated or a new cell phone usage plan is turned on by defendants," the complaint states.
"Nevertheless, for years, defendants have actively and without reservation aided, abetted, and assisted thieves, i.e., possessors of stolen cell phones, in earning illegal theft profits, by turning back on, or 're-activating' said stolen phones.
"Plaintiffs have been told by AT&T representatives that they will not, and 'cannot,' block and effectively kill usage of such stolen cell phones by thieves and criminal organizations[;] however, such representations are false and fraudulent.
"Defendants actively have, for years, participated in this practice in order to make millions of dollars in improper profits, by forcing legitimate customers, such as these plaintiffs, to buy new cell phones, and buy new cell phone plans, while the criminals who stole the phone are able to simply walk into AT&T stores and 're-activate' the devices, using different, cheap, readily available 'SIM' cards (computer chips).
"Defendants have, for years, profited from this implicit collaboration and conspiracy with thieves and criminal gangs of thieves.
"Defendants continue to engage in this practice, and knowingly and intentionally continue to refuse to block, disable, or 'kill' permanently, or return to their lawful owners these stolen iPhones and other cell phones, to the financial benefit and plan not only of the criminal thieves themselves, but of the defendants, [i.e.], AT&T.
"These unfair and illegal profits have amounted to many millions of dollars each year, for the past several years, and continuing, reaped by AT&T and other cell phone providers.
"Plaintiffs have repeatedly asked defendants to track, record, and simply refuse to 'activate' these stolen iPhones, however, to date defendants have refused to do so, even though it is readily, easily able to accomplish, because if they take said proper action, their sales of new iPhones and plans will be reduced and diminished."
Plaintiffs seek disgorgement and punitive damages.
They are represented by R. Parker White with Poswall, White & Cutler.
Named as defendants are AT&T, AT&T Communications of California, AT&T Mobility Wireless Operations Holdings, and Doe corporations, business entities and individuals.