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AT&T sues 3 employees over phone-unlocking scheme

If AT&Ts accusations are true, it's a heck of a scam.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on Sep 18, 2015   Updated on May 27, 2021, 11:03 pm CDT

AT&T has accused three employees of a scheme: taking money to secretly install malware that unlocked hundreds of thousands of phones without permission.

The company’s lawsuit against the employees, first reported on by Geekwire, has eight defendants, including Swift Unlocks, the California company accused of masterminding the entire plan.

Swift Unlocks charges customers to have their phones unlocked. They’ve also provided unlocks for T-Mobile and Verizon, though it’s unclear if those two companies are involved.

Marc Sapatin, one of the former AT&T employees being sued, allegedly tried to recruit a coworker, whom he told that “many people across the country” were involved and that other carriers had also been hacked.

Smartphones are “locked” into carriers, forcing customers who buy a phone for one provider stick with that company if they don’t want to buy another phone.

The lock lasts at least until the customers’ initial contract is up and, even then, a lift on the lock must be specifically requested by the customer. Otherwise, the phone simply won’t work on another network.

The exception to that are services that unlock phones for you, like Swift Unlocks.

The plan, as AT&T alleges, was simple: Three employees took tens of thousands of dollars from Swift Unlocks, then to installed malware on AT&T computers that gave Swift Unlocks remote access and control.

AT&T alleges it uncovered the scheme in Oct. 2013, and is seeking at least $75,000 in damages.

The defendants have not yet filed a response with the court.

H/T Techworld | Photo via Jim Makos/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Sep 18, 2015, 5:06 pm CDT