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Verizon to join other carriers in temporarily locking new iPhones

Verizon will soon begin briefly locking all smartphones bought for its network as way of combatting theft and fraud, the wireless carrier announced on Monday.

The company didn't say how long lockdown periods will last, or when they will take effect, beyond sometime this spring. It should however make a second announcement before the change goes live, and it's promising to eventually unlock devices regardless of whether they've been fully paid for.

Although the upcoming switch may seem like a regression to the days of subsidized phones, Verizon's current and future policies are actually more generous than its rivals. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint not only have minimum wait periods, but require that phones be paid off. In fact AT&T subscribers must wait up to 14 days even after they qualify for an unlock.

Under Verizon's present system, it can be relatively easy for thieves to turn around and sell devices, especially if they've stolen someone else's identity first. That lets them make a "legal" purchase, then sell the hardware before the fraud can be undone.

Legitimate iPhone buyers are unlikely to suffer any negative impacts unless they plan to travel outside the U.S. It's often cheaper to use a SIM from a foreign carrier than pay roaming fees, but locked phones can't use any SIM apart from one from the host carrier.

iPhones are a lucrative target for thieves given their popularity and high cost. Ahead of November's iPhone X launch, for example, over 300 units were stolen off a UPS truck in broad daylight. The haul was worth about $370,000, assuming there were no obstacles to the black market.