Vodacom and MTN block smartphones stolen in looting

South Africa’s mobile operators are blocking smartphones and tablets stolen during July’s looting in parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal from connecting to their networks.

Multiple mobile network stores and other shops which held stock of mobile devices were hit during the violence.

These included 18 Vodacom stores, 29 MTN retail outlets, 12 Cell stores, 11 Telkom stores, and 22 Telkom kiosks.

While the losses and damages were still being assessed, it was clear that all the networks had lost numerous devices to the looters.

Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C said that the devices stolen from their or their franchisees’ stores were either in the process of being blocked or have already been blocked.

A Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband it was standard practice to blacklist stolen phones.

“Vodacom store franchisees will have blacklisted phones stolen during the unrest,” the spokesperson said.

MTN executive for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan, explained the company had a clearly defined process that store personnel needed to follow to report lost devices either due to theft or loss for blacklisting.

“We can confirm that MTN is in the process of blacklisting all devices confirmed to be stolen at MTN retail stores and MTN courier partners during the civil unrest that recently took place in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng,” O’Sullivan said.

Jacqui O'Sullivan
Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN executive for corporate affairs.

Telkom and Cell C also confirmed that devices stolen from their stores were blocked.

“A bulk blacklisting was done on all identified stolen handsets, and an assessment of the losses was conducted,” stated Cell C COO Andre Ittman.

A network block would nullify any network’s SIM card from being used in blacklisted handsets, he added.

Ittman said there were ongoing engagements with insurers on the value of the losses.

During the looting, videos shared on social media showed a Cell C store In Tongaat being ransacked after looters managed to break off its security gate.

While the operators did not share exactly how the phones would be blocked from connecting to one of their networks, one common way this is done is by blacklisting the device’s  International Mobile Equipment Identity number.

This is a typical intervention for when a phone is reported stolen or a customer refuses to pay their bills.

While it does not completely disable all features on the device, it greatly decreases its functionality, as it is barred from using cellular network services including calling, messaging, or using the Internet.

If you believe your device may have been wrongly blacklisted, you can use one of the channels below to have it unblocked.

  • Vodacom – Fill out a request form and check the “un-blacklist” box and email it to [email protected] along with a proof of identity.
  • MTN –  In cases where the blacklisted device has been recovered, MTN is able to unblock the device once proof of legitimate ownership has been validated and verified.
  • Telkom – Visit a Telkom branded store with documents to verify the device was not stolen.
  • Cell C – Says wrongful blocking is unlikely and will be handled by Cell C Forensics department.

Now read: Samsung TVs stolen in looting will be blocked

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Vodacom and MTN block smartphones stolen in looting