Consumer Watch

Wendy Knowler fights for your rights...

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February 15 2012 at 11:05

Sharmaine Dhawnarain blacklisted her BlackBerry after hijackers stole it, along with her car and other valuables, at gunpoint last month.

By doing so, she believed that it would be listed as stolen and thus disabled electronically – in other words, it would become useless to the hijacker or anyone it was sold to.

But more than a week later, the hijacker was |still merrily using the supposedly blacklisted BlackBerry.

Dhawnarain, an MTN subscriber, made the shocking discovery 11 days after she was hijacked in front of her two daughters at their home in Durban.

Then a friend of one of her daughters sent a BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) invitation to Dhawnarain, mistakenly using the PIN for the BlackBerry stolen during the hijacking.

“Imagine her surprise when she received a reply from my hijacker, who is still using my blacklisted cellphone!

“He even sent his profile picture. I was quite shocked to see it – he’s definitely one of the two men who hijacked me,” Dhawnarain said.

So either he’s not |too bright, or incredibly brazen.

Incidentally, Dhawnarain’s car and handbag were recovered by her tracking company – only her BlackBerry was still missing.

So how is that hijacker able to keep using a blacklisted handset?

“I have queried this with MTN and have been advised that blacklisted cellphones are still operable,” Dhawnarain said. “But they tell me they can’t trace it. Imagine that.”

She has reported the information to the police, who will no doubt have more luck in getting |that information from the network, should they |be inclined.

Responding, MTN’s customer service executive, Eddie Moyce, said her phone was indeed blacklisted on its network, and the Equipment Identity Register (EIR), which is facilitated by Transunion ITC.

“Effectively, this prevents the device from being used on any of the other networks,” he said. “But |the blacklisting of devices, for network usage, is only limited to those countries that have an EIR database, and who have subscribed to the Centralised Equipment Identity Register (CEIR).”

If the BlackBerry had been taken into one of SA’s neighbouring countries, the blacklisting would not be effective, he said, because current legislation only applies within our borders.

Another possibility was that criminals had changed the phone’s IMEI number, he said.

“This means the same device reflects a new IMEI number on the network, which prevents the network from realising that the device is one which is blacklisted,” Moyce said.

Such tampering was illegal, according to RICA legislation, he said, but can’t be prevented because the phone’s IMEI is not hard-coded into it.

So, whether Dhawnarain’s Blackberry has had its IMEI number changed, or is being used outside SA, its BBM pin can still be used, making it possible for the hijacker to use her BlackBerry messenging profile. Moyce said the BlackBerry is not in use on any of the “home” networks.

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