IMEI numbers, short for International Mobile Equipment Identity, are used as unique identifiers for smartphones and other consumer electronics like tablets. Carriers use these numbers to identify valid devices, and in cooperation with local law enforcement, it's possible to block stolen phones from accessing the internet or track down those in unlawful possession. You can imagine that things get complicated if a bunch of devices share the same IMEI, which is just what happened with more than 13,000 Vivo phones in India.
According to local reports citing police in Meerut, the scam was first discovered when an officer had his Vivo smartphone repaired last year, followed by continuing system errors when he received it back. He then noticed that the IMEI number had changed. After an investigation, the police identified 13,557 other Vivo phones with the same IMEI across India and pressed charges against the manufacturer.
India even introduced a law that made IMEI fraud a punishable offense in 2017, but apparently, that wasn't enough to discourage the practice. It's certainly possible that all of the devices with the IMEI in question will be blocked by carriers, which might help mitigate security issues, but could leave thousands without a functional phone.
Vivo isn't a first time offender, either: According to The Times of India, a police department in another part of the country, Madhya Pradesh, uncovered that more than 50,000 Vivo phones shared the same IMEI number last year. The incident could be traced back to a mobile repair shop, though Vivo and suppliers were accused of being in on the crime.
The incident might spark further resentment towards Chinese companies in India, as a local initiative has only recently brought TikTok's Play Store ratings down to 1.2 stars over accusations of poor moderation and violent content.
- Himanshu Singh,
- Gurkanwal Singh,
- and SyCoREAPER