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Companies that specialise in buying and selling used iPhones are reporting that the methods they use to unlock handsets to allow them to be used on any compatible network are no longer working for AT&T models.

AT&T models are in greatest demand for companies reselling iPhones overseas, as the frequencies used are compatible with many foreign networks. But the WSJ says that something changed early in October, and no solution has been found since then. One reseller, run by Louis Ashner, says it is being forced to close.

“The market is gone,” Mr. Ashner said, who said he was on track for $1 million in revenue this year. “We are closing up.”

Business owners throughout the U.S. used-smartphone market are reporting the same problem, and like Mr. Ashner none of them knows exactly what went wrong. Whatever changed, AT&T appears to be at the center of it … 

AT&T would say only that its policy for unlocking phones for individual customers (on request, once the contract has expired) remains unchanged. Resellers can also still unlock iPhones individually, but at a cost as high as $100 per phone rather than the $1-2 they used to pay for mass-unlocks.

“AT&T was very lax for a long time in regards to mobile phone unlocking. If they said no, a third-party unlocker would be happy to unlock any AT&T iPhone or other device for a very decent price,” said Will Strafach, who runs a Connecticut-based unlocking company called ChronicUnlocks. “AT&T is really taking action and coming down hard.”

One of our own industry sources suggests that many mass-unlocking companies had been simply emailing batches of phone identification numbers to AT&T and asking for them to be unlocked. They speculated that AT&T may be refusing to accept these bulk requests now on the basis that there was no practical way to verify that the handsets were legitimate.

Our go-to unlocking service, ChronicUnlocks, doesn’t use the questionable method, and is still able to unlock AT&T handsets as usual. This can add up to $100 to the resale value of an iPhone, but unfortunately readers in comments are reporting that it now costs the same to do the unlock.

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82 Responses to “Apparent block on mass-unlocking of AT&T iPhones hits resale industry”

  1. Adds $100 to resale value…and costs $100 to do….

  2. Yep, AT&T is very strict about this. I am willing to bet that the other big GSM carrier, T-Mobile, will soon be just as tough. The best thing to do, if you need to bring your phone out of the country often, is to buy an unlocked phone to begin with. This is expensive with an iPhone, but several Android phones can be had with good specs, unlocked, for a couple hundred dollars or so.

  3. While I really dislike the carriers, I have no sympathy for these resellers either. Too bad.

  4. So, it’s still OK to mass unlock Galaxy S smartphones on AT&T? If so, then I suppose consumers will see it as another plus to buy Android smartphones.

  5. Is it possible that AT&T was pressured to shut down mass unlocking requests to help fight smartphone theft?
    In some large cities, phone theft accounts for 50% of the reported crime. SF DA George Gascon has been leading an effort to pressure handset manufacturers to provide a remote kill option on stolen devices.
    Killing off the middle man might be another way to help slow down the crime wave.

  6. This is fucking evil, ATT!

  7. “AT&T may be refusing to accept these bulk requests now on the basis that there was no practical way to verify that the handsets were legitimate.”

    Yeah that’s the excuse but if you allow me to put my conspiracy hat on, it makes sense that cell phone companies start to block each other’s phones to hurt the used phone market in order to drive new phone sales.

    If people can’t get unlocked, used phones that are cheaper they will be forced to pay more for new phones, sign up for new plans and/or extend contracts which will translate into beau coup bucks for for cell phone companies.

  8. Oh, on a personal note this is good news for me and others who already have their ATT phones unlocked cause it will drive up demand for these phones making selling my 4S that much easier and more profitable.

  9. One hundred dollars to unlock a phone? What the F!? Why is the price so high? The last phone I had to get unlocked cost 25 bucks…100 dollars is straight up RIDICULOUS; no one should have to pay that price.

    • Silk Skirt says:

      I used to pay $1.5, I guess their cost is only 50c. The current high price is not because they are increasing the profit margin, it is because the cost is up.

      Who would pay that much? Obviously for any business to survive there is a market.

  10. I only paid $0.60 cents to unlock my gold iPhone 5S… And I got mine 4 days after it launched at a best buy. The unlock was simple and smooth

  11. finngodo says:

    Carriers shouldn’t have to yield to mass unlocking requests from third parties anyway. And individuals should be able to unlock any phone that has been paid / finished its contract by law by the end of the year anyway. In fact, they’ll have to do it for free, and most likely have to notify you when your phone is eligible: http://www.engadget.com/2013/11/14/fcc-chairman-tom-wheeler-tells-the-ctia-to-get-on-board-with-his/

  12. B Logposter says:

    This story helps to explain my situation to a degree.

    I won’t get into all of the details, but I made the decision to leave AT&T in October. The day I left The Evil Empire, I bought a new AT&T iPhone 5S at full price. I go home and call AT&T to have the iPhone unlocked. I spoke with a friendly, courteous rep who had my iPhone unlocked in a minute. As soon as this was done, I took the iPhone to another carrier and made the switch.

    Fast-forward 3 weeks to early November. I decide to return my iPhone 5S and exchange it. I get the new AT&T iPhone 5S and immedately call The Evil Empire from the store to have the iPhone unlocked. The first rep tells me she can’t unlock the iPhone. She says AT&T doesn’t unlock iPhones and never has unlocked iPhones. When I tell her I know this to be incorrect not only because of the law but because I had AT&T unlock a phone for me 3 weeks ago, she said I was mistaken and misunderstood what had happened. (And it is amazing customer service such as this that led me to leave AT&T in the first place.) So I ask to speak to her supervisor.

    Several supervisors later, I am able to somewhat piece together an answer. The Evil Empire maintains a website where current and former customers may go to request that an AT&T device. Current customers can unlock 5 devices a year and former customers may unlock 5 devices total. AT&T was taking unlock request over the phone for devices but stopped that practice October 30.

    At the time, I did not believe any of this. In my prior dealings with AT&T, I have had their agents tell me something could not be done when a different agent made that same something happen for a friend or colleague. And when have pointed this out those agents have called me a liar by insisting I must be mistaken.

    So how did my story turn out? The last supervisor I spoke said that while they could not unlock my device directly, they could submit the request on my behalf. I said go ahead. The supervisor then says my iPhone cannot be unlocked because it has been flagged. “Flagged for what?” I ask. The device has been listed as stolen she says. “What!?!? I just bought it at an Apple Store!” How can it be stolen.” The supervisor says that the best that can be done is to submit an investigation request which can take up to two weeks to complete. In the meantime, I will be without a working phone.

    I get home with my locked iPhone and am pissed. In my rage I decide to put my new carrier SIM in my iPhone and restore it from iCloud. At least I can have my data and apps back and use it as an web enabled device. During the set-up process my locked AT&T iPhone 5S recognized the carrier SIM in it and activated on that network.

    Seriously, WTF?!?!?

    • Silk Skirt says:

      Luck you!
      It takes a human error to allow 5S be unlocked days into contract, all it takes is to pass the IMEI to the team who is responsible to submit them to Apple.
      It takes anther human error to input the wrong IMEI (in this case, your IMEI) to have it unlocked.

      You are luck to have both happening to you within a month. I experienced the same within the range of about a year.

  13. gbshuler says:

    This is not hearsay. This is firsthand.

    In September, my wife and I re-upped with AT&T by purchasing two new iPhone 5s phones under standard 2 year contracts. This leaves me with two out of contract AT&T iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4s models to sell. I have been working with AT&T Social Care patiently for 5 weeks to explain why I am getting rejections on unlock requests through their special unlock website.

    Fact: thanks to a curious AT&T Social Care employee, it turns out the unlock software was using the old EMEI (good), but pointing to the current phone number (bad! — the new phone has a new EMEI!). So.. the AT&T Unlock software was saying “this request is for a 1 month old iPhone 5s. REJECT!” It takes a human being from AT&T to override this.

    I speculate that this software glitch affects thousands of people. If you are being rejected and you have paid your bills, and done the time (24 months), then I would contact AT&T Social Care through their support website/forum and have them check that your new phone is not involved in the check of your old EMEI..

    • Silk Skirt says:

      It is IMEI, and it is human error, not software error. I experienced the same, the CSR or whomever is processing the request linked the current contract with the old IMEI.

      With every increasing loads of requests, the ATT process proves to be full of bugs.

      I cannot say in detail but I had my 5S unlocked through ATT within half an hour, all through normal process. It is less than a month in contract, should not be considered at all.

      • Brad Shuler says:

        I am a software developer (for what its worth). A very apologetic AT&T customer service rep called me. She stated specifically that the unlock check software was using my new phone’s contract date with my old phone’s IMEI. So when a query was made with my old phone’s IMEI, it showed “you just bought a new iPhone. No way!”.

  14. Sana Khan says:

    Apart from Chronic Unlocks, iphoneattunlock.com is also working. They completed my order today after seven business days of processing.

  15. Silk Skirt says:

    I don’t think there is another way.

    The only way is to have the IMEI marked as unlocked on Apple server, ATT’s job is to verify before sending it to Apple. Your iPhone has to go through a restore/upgrade process to take a new firmware sent from Apple, verified with IMEI status. This is the only legal way (soft unlock achieved this by modifying the loaded firmware, which works until being replaced by new firmware when upgrade, so only factory unlock works forever because when it is time to upgrade, it is always from Apple, if the server there verified its unlock status, it will send an “unlocked” firmware)

    How did it work in the past? Either the third party paid ATT (at cheap price) to do it (Stupid of ATT, now they stopped), or hack access to Apple server to do it.

    With ATT refusing to take bulk order, everything stopped. And because almost everything stopped, it proves the old way is to pay through ATT, not to hack into Apple server.

    Now, why the price is also up for the company who claims to be doing it in a different way? The answer is simple: the same way, same as others, when ATT prices up, everyone in the business has to.

  16. AT&T got greedier. They do not want people to unlock and go to different companies because they lose money. So they are trying to see how people will react to this

    • This is the only reason, AT&T is losing too many customers. We are on a T-Mobile business plan. Unlimited talk and text, plus 500MB of data (each line). 120 for the first four lines. Then $10 for each extra line. We have 11 lines. Everyone has a smartphone. That’s less than $20 a line.

  17. I transferred my company iPhone 4S to my private account. My employer gifted me the phone when I left so I could keep the number that I have had for about 6 years. I moved the number to Tmobile to take advantage of the family plan pricing and I bought a new iPhone 5S.

    Now I try to unlock the 4S so I can sell it and am being told by ATT customer service that even though my ex-employer is paying the early termination charges for the line, I cannot unlock the phone until the end of the original contract – this July. Doesn’t sound right, I was counting on selling the phone to counter the cost of the new one. Somebody could buy the 4S and put it on the ATT network and it will work fine. Is there a market for the 4S if it isnt unlocked?

  18. I cancelled my account and paid an early termination fee and still the morons/crooks at AT&T refuse to unlock the phone until a whole billing cycle has passed AFTER having already cancelled my account, leaving me without a phone. This smells of antitrust and the whole concept of locking a customer to a single carrier needs to be stopped.

    • Greg Clubb says:

      I am in nearly the same boat. I planned to move to T mobile, and called AT&T to find out how to make the process more seamless. My biggest worry was my son’s iPhone 5 that was still under contract. I was told to port out the numbers a week before the billing cycle ended. Supposedly that way the ETF would hit on my last billing cycle, and then I could pay up and be good to go. Not quite the way it worked out. Now I’m being told that the ETF won’t post for another month. So the iPhone 5 is held hostage for at least another 30 days.

      • mfouquette says:

        Went through seven circles of hell, but finally got unlocked. At one point, escalated to someone who took my ETF and applied it to the account. System still rejected another unlock request. Finally escalated again and asked them to copy and paste to show me where it said anywhere that it could take a billing cycle before I could pay the ETF. Nowhere does it say that. Att.com/deviceunlock only states that if you have paid any applicable ETF you would qualify for the unlock. They recognized this and got me unlocked about 2 hours later.

        Michael

  19. Brad Shuler says:

    Just curious. Has anyone actually gotten the AT&T Unlock web page to work without a problem?

    I will add this.. Once your iPhone is unlocked you can verify this by performing a Restore through iTunes (you will lose all data!). Once all the wiping activity of your phone is complete a nice welcome screen appears in iTunes: “Congratulations, your phone has been unlocked.”.. “click to Continue”..

    I found this strange, but a great screenshot for eBay..

    My 64GB iPhone 4s AT&T unlocked is worth $140 to Gazelle.
    The phone is up on eBay at $335 with two days to go.
    An American AT&T unlocked iPhone is like gold bullion world wide.
    It’s worth the good fight to get your iPhone unlocked.

  20. Here are the 3 major problems for those that ar unaware. First let me say this, I am a proud American, and a proud American capitalist. With that being said lets get down to it.
    1) This is the equivalent of a company selling laptops made by a third party, and mandating that internet service for the laptop must be Time Warner, and if Time Warner is not used the laptop will not work. The problem with this is, where does this start and end. Tv’s, laptops, medical devices, ect.
    2) There are currently only two distributors of smartphones in the USA. Tech Data and Ingram Micro. The supply Tmobile, Att, Verizon, Sprint, and others with their handsets. The problem is in America monopolies were supposed to be illegal, but obviously not. Due to the security risk of cell phones, it shouldn’t be just limited to the 4 kings. Small business should have every right to offer the same product at a competitive price. The problem these distributors sell to small business over retail so there is no money to be made, therefore forcing out competition.
    3) As far as class action, there will be a huge class action suit against ATT down the pipe you can bet on it. They are billing customers extraordinary prices, and if they don’t receive their moneies in full they will simply dud the assets, by not unlocking them or blocking the esn or imei. This is illegal. Period. You can’t collect for assets you destroy! Period. For instance, Directv after non payment or cancellation of service allows you to send in your equipment for full reimbursment. What these carriers are doing is beyond illegal, they are contract price+collection fees+equipment fees+service fees, and only then do they sometimes unlock your device.
    At the end this shows the level of corruption in our goverment. This should have never been, and now with the unlock ban, the carriers want to do away with the used phone market. It’s not up to them to dictate the market, the market dictates itself and it’s illegal for them to regulate the market because they are not the government. Mcdonalds sells tons of food a day, if a small business makes money on the resell of their cups, Mcdonalds can’t devise schemes to destroy customers cups so they can’t be used elsewhere. Bad example, yea I’ll admit, but you catch my drift..Lastly, if Samsung, Apple, ect. makes these devices for the carriers, then there needs to be a a path for the American citizens to CHOOSE whether they want to go thru these companies or not. We should have the CHOICE to order our own phone directly from these carriers and choose who we want service with.

  21. Tony Blinard says:

    AT&T has since relaxed their policy a bit by now allowing an easier procedure for unlocking after contract iPhones 4, 4S and 5. Under contract devices still have to meet stricter conditions:

    •If you are under contract you must complete the contract period before your device can be unlocked.
    •If you are a prepay customer, you must have 6 months of prepaid service.
    •If you paid full price for your AT&T device and are a postpaid customer you must have at least 90 days of service with AT&T.

    Source: http://digitaljournal.com/blog/21272

  22. Actually even AT&T unlock services are so pricey we can still buy $199 iPhone 5S under at&t contract and get in unlocked for $165 – ebay prices (I know the reliable source for $139) under 48 hours. So the full prices of new 5S still should be pretty good: $199+$165 is much more cheaper then buying factory unlocked 5S at apple store or ebay.

  23. mrclarkinc says:

    It’s very simple folks. I’m a re-seller. The reason they stopped unlocking is obvious. Most people in the states unlocked their phones so they could use T-mobile or some sort of prepaid plan. What does that mean for ATT? They lose 100′s of millions to people that unlock their phones and use another service. It was a no brainer really.

    That said, i can still unlock phones for free, it just takes longer now. It’s actually benefited me a great deal, because i’m the only one that can do it, so my profit magain has doubled.

  24. mrclarkinc, how about this one: 013068008662001

    It is out of contract, please email me at shawn@easywebvideo.com when you get a chance – thanks for offering to help folks!

  25. unlockboot says:

    The service is restarted and works fine.

  26. For the people that want to unlock any kind of AT&T devices, you can go check out attiphoneunlocking, they are able to unlock all kinds of AT&T devices up to date

  27. Hi! Kindly check this one too, please. It’s from AT&T, Imei is 013008006549636. It’s a hand me down actually, I’ve already visited chronicunlocks but it’s kind of expensive and a friend said to look for unlocking service that doesn’t cost much and I need advice. Thank you so much.

  28. Hi Sir, Can you also check mine from AT&T as well? IMEI: 013433002560884. screechburn@yahoo.com
    Thanks in advance