Android OEM Accused of Using Stolen IMEIs in 13,000 Smartphones

Vivo Smartphones on Display Credit: Patcharaporn Puttipon 636 / Shutterstock
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IMEI hacking is not a new phenomenon. For years, Scammers have been stealing these mobile phone identification numbers and using them on stolen phones. It’s gotten so bad in some countries like India that the country has made IMEI fraud illegal. That isn’t stopping people from abusing the IMEI system, though. A recent investigation in India uncovered more than 13,000 Vivo phones with the same IMEIs.

IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. It is a unique number assigned to every mobile phone, tablet, and similar connected device. It is used by wireless carriers to identify and track mobile devices on their network.

Carriers can use these numbers to block stolen phones or lockout phones with past due bills. If more than one phone has the same IMEI, this can cause significant issues for wireless carriers and even law enforcement. Carriers can no longer track individual mobile phones, and any attempt to block a phone could take thousands of phones offline.

This recent scam was uncovered when a police officer sent in his Vivo phone for repair. When he received it back, the phone was plagued with system errors. Upon inquiry, he discovered that the IMEI number on his phone had been changed. It wasn’t just this single phone that had been changed. Further investigation revealed over 13,000 phones were sharing the same IMEI. Mobile phone manufacturer Vivo faces charges in this case.

This is not the first time Vivo has been in hot water for IMEI fraud. Last year, the company was implicated in another IMEI sharing incident in which more than 50,000 Vivo phones had the same IMEI.

These phones could all be traced to a single repair shop that allegedly cloned the IMEIs.

In both this older case and the latest incident, Vivo and its suppliers are facing charges for their role in this fraud.

Apple isn’t immune to this kind of fraud. In a high profile case, college students were accused of defrauding Apple of millions of dollars using fake phones with stolen IMEIs. The students would send in fake phones for repair and resell the genuine ones they received as part of the repair process.

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