Verizon to start locking phones again in order to combat phone theft

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Verizon said it will begin locking its phones. (Image: homethods.com)

Verizon will start locking its phones again this spring in order to prevent thieves from profiting off the sale of stolen phones.

As Cnet reported, Verizon began selling unlocked phones when it launched LTE servicespartly because the 700 MHz spectrum Verizon initially used for its LTE services carried with it open-access stipulations from the FCC.

Now, however, Verizon will keep its phones locked until the device is sold. As soon as a customer activates a new phone, it will be unlocked. And, as Cnet reported, later in the spring Verizon will keep its phones locked for a period of time after customers purchase the phones.

As Verizon explained, the effort is geared toward preventing thieves from being able to steal unsold phones and then resell them. "These steps will make our phones exponentially less desirable to criminals," Tami Erwin, EVP of wireless operations for Verizon, told Cnet.

As the publication noted, most U.S. carriers do keep their phones locked to their service for a period of time.

The issue is important to wireless customers who are either looking to switch to a new carrier and keep their existing phone or who want to travel overseas and use local wireless carriers by inserting SIM cards from those local carriers. Wireless carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T will generally unlock phones at the request of customers as long as those customers have paid for their phone.

Phone theft continues to bedevil the wireless industry. For example, in 2015 CTIA said that a group of wireless carriers and smartphone makers had implemented a set of voluntary principles aimed at stopping smartphone theft. The announcement came just as a California law requiring smartphones sold in the state to have a "kill switch" went into effect. 

Article updated Feb. 12 to correct information about Verizon's immediate unlocking plans.