Stolen iPhones May Still Receive iMessages Sent To The Original Owner

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According to various user accounts, stolen iPhones still seem to be receiving iMessages being sent to the original owner, despite taking measures like remote wiping or changing Apple ID passwords.

The latest such account comes from an Ars Technica reader David Hovis:

According to Hovis, his wife deactivated her iPhone with her carrier, remote wiped it, and immediately changed her Apple ID password—”we picked up a new iPhone the next day, figuring that our insurance would end up paying for it” 

The stolen phone was later sold to a new owner, who could not only receive messages meant for Hovis’ wife, but also pose as her and send messages to others. He learnt that similar problems had plagued other iPhone users on MacRumors forums as well as Apple discussion boards.

A similar problem haunted iPhone users when push notifications were introduced with iOS 3. Notifications were sent to the wrong phones, presumably because they were jailbroken.

Apple remained silent on the issue, but iOS security expert Jonathan Zdziarski had this to say with regard to the issue:

“I can only speculate, but I can see this being plausible. iMessage registers with the subscriber’s phone number from the SIM, so let’s say you restore the phone, it will still read the phone number from the SIM. I suppose if you change the SIM out after the phone has been configured, the old number might be cached somewhere either on the phone or on Apple’s servers with the UDID of the phone.” 

There can be two possible solutions. One is to completely abandon the Apple ID tied with the stolen device, but that would mean you lose all your purchases. Another is to hope that iMessage is reactivated with a new phone number/Apple ID.

Both these solutions are nowhere close to being practical, and it remains to be seen whether this is a server side bug, or a bug on the resident software on iPhones.

Have any of you folks experienced similar issues?

[via Ars Technica]

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  • City023

    Haha! 1st
    That sucks.

  • A1d3n

    Sold the wife’s iPhone 4 and they called up sayinging they were still getting my texts.

    I restored the phone before I sold it.

    Very annoying. Sent ‘pictures’ too :-O

  • Cooper

    My sister upgraded from a 3G to a 4GS and has been having this exact problem. I have to make site to send her texts and not iMessages.

  • Craig

    Me and a friend switched out phones and had that problem for a few days. Luckily instead of being stolen, me and my friend were able to fix it eventually

  • Michael

    Gave my wife my old iphone 4 when I upgraded to the 4S and we’re not experiencing that problem. The Apple store employee moved my old SIM to the 4S and put a brand new SIM into the 4. When I got home I did a full wipe of the 4 and registered it to the wife’s apple ID.

  • Teaike

    I’m guessing this is an issue only with the gsm model?

  • Erik Adams

    Why is it that the carrier, or Apple, cannot disable the IMEI or MEID or somehow toast the phone? Wouldn’t this stop people from stealing the iPhone, or buying potentially stolen iPhones.

    • Johndc

      Cause the carriers dont care if your phone is stolen. They care about activations.
      The line that AT&T told me about black listing IMEI, is that they dont have the system in place to do block reported stolen IMEI numbers. Its criminal that they dont do this. It would totally block the stolen phone market if the IMEI utilized for blacklisting. We should be furious that the carriers dont protect their clients this way, but we are only pissed when its our phone thats stolen and resold….

  • George

    i lost my iphone 4, the next day i ordered the 4s, got it like 2 weeks later.. started using my 4s like usual.. but when i would text people using iMessage, this exact thing would happen to me, the person i would be iMessaging would be getting texts (extremely weird texts at that) that i would never be sending and it would look on my phone as if i would be sending them but i never did. i changed my apple ID on my apple account, but my 4s wont let me change my ID on my phone on iCloud, so i turned iMessaging off on my 4s and havent turned it back on, but now i can’t receive anyones texts that have iMessages, they would have to turn their imessage off before texting me if i want to see their texts…very frustrating and annoying!!! there needs to be a solution to this!!

  • Tim

    Another reason why I use “Whatsapp” or “Line” for messaging. Its free, a lot more powerful, send pics, share location, send messages internationally free, and its cross platform.

  • Cody

    There’s an easy fix for this, and I’m surprised no one has mentioned it. Simply go to your Settings -> Messages and then turn iMessage off then back on. It should ask you to log in with your Apple ID and ta-da, no more issues. I had setup my mom’s iPhone 4 through my computer during the iOS 5 update and somehow my iMessage login info got copied to her iPhone so she was also getting my iMessages (but only those sent to my email, not my actual phone number). If you’ve stolen someone iPhone, you’re a schister and that stuff will come back to you, but you can simply follow the instructions and log out of the victim’s account.

  • Mark W

    I dont know about the US, but in Europe the IMEI’s are blocked in almost all theft cases.

    Not sure how it was organised with all the vested interests but i guess the insurance companies had a say.

    It severely reduces handset theft since most people know that if you steal a handset now, it’ll be worthless in a couple of hours.

    Also the penalties for attempting to circumvent the block are insane. About 10 years IIRC

    You’d actually make more money tracking down the owner and requesting

  • Mark W

    A reward

  • Bruh

    Yay, another feature of iCrap. Even if you lose your phone you can still receive SMS! WOOOO