Scam of the Week – Protect Your Phone’s Identity

The Scam of the Week highlights a scam that someone in our service area recently fell victim to. To look at all scams or report one of your own, check out BBB Scam Tracker. As of the end of June 2016, there have been over 30,000 scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker. Scam Tracker is a crowdsourced tool that gives consumers a place to report scams and warn others, and also helps law enforcement find and prosecute scammers. 

Reported June 2016, Mill Valley: The victim was searching the Internet for a service to “unlock” their iPhone, and found a site that promised to do so. Apple only allows carriers to unlock phones. The victim, not knowing this, decided to purchase the service; they provided the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number of their iPhone, a unique mobile phone identity number that is tied to the device, and made a $39.99 payment online with a credit card to have their phone unlocked. Nothing ever happened, and three weeks later they received an email stating that the scammer needed more money to unlock the victim’s phone. At this point the victim knew there was trouble and thankfully didn’t respond to the email or click the included link.

Although no other scams like this affecting people in our service area have been reported, there are many fraudulent unlocking sites out there. Unfortunately for the consumer, their lost money may not be recoverable. To avoid this, make sure to do your research before making a purchase online, and make sure everything is legal! If you’re trying to unlock your phone, do so through your carrier. Besides BBB Scam Tracker, the Federal Trade Commission and BBB Business Reviews are a great tool; look up the company in question at There, you can look at their information, rating, complaint details, and Customer Reviews.

This reported scam has a twist. The victim provided their phone’s IMEI, which is a unique identifying number. If one’s phone is stolen, they can report it using their IMEI and the phone can be blocked from accessing cellular networks and added to a database of stolen phones. The IMEI is similar to a phone’s Social Security number – and it could be stolen and used in the same way. It’s not always bad to give away an IMEI; if you’re selling your used phone the buyer may ask for it to make sure they’re not purchasing a stolen phone. However, giving away your IMEI can be dangerous:

  • A thief, in this case the “company” that the consumer gave their IMEI to, could clone the phone – stealing its identity and using the victim’s carrier account and number with a different device. The victim might receive a huge phone bill months later for calls they never made.
  • The thief could report the IMEI lost or stolen – blocking the victim from using their phone until they contact their service provider and untangle the situation.
  • The thief could be selling a stolen phone and would offer the victim’s IMEI to “prove” the phone wasn’t stolen. Similarly, they could put up a fraudulent listing and use the victim’s IMEI to prove the phone being sold exists before taking the consumer’s money and disappearing without delivering the product.

To make sure you don’t fall prey to a scam remember to do your research, be careful when sharing any personal information (including your IMEI), and stay connected to BBB and to keep up to date with new scam alerts and consumer tips.


Pearl is the Communications Specialist for Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California (BBB Oakland). She works to advance BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other by being proactive in the community and developing relationships with business and consumer groups. Pearl represents BBB at events throughout the Bay Area to educate a wide variety of people. Pearl also manages BBB Oakland’s social media channels.

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Posted in Computers - Internet - Privacy, Consumer Tips

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