Top U.S. wireless carrier Verizon will temporarily network-lock all of the mobile phones it sells in an effort to deter theft and fraud, according to a Cnet report today. The move comes after years of a more relaxed policy whereby Verizon sold customers unlocked phones, immediately enabling their use on rival domestic and overseas cellular networks. According to Verizon, phones will begin to arrive locked by default, an initial change intended to reduce the theft of new phones that are either en route to or sitting inside stores. Verizon is also making a second change this spring: implementing an unspecified wait period for unlocking in an effort to stop scammers from using stolen identities to sign up for services, get new phones, then immediately sell the phones and disappear. Assuming that the theft and fraud problems are as serious as Verizon suggests, the new policies appear to be reasonably consumer-friendly. Until the second change happens in spring, Verizon will automatically unlock a new phone as soon as a customer signs up and activates service. In spring, once the waiting period is in effect, the unlock will happen either manually or automatically after a yet-to-be-specified period of time. This will likely only inconvenience people who plan to travel internationally and use foreign SIM cards soon after buying the phone. As Cnet notes, all of the other major U.S. carriers have unlock waiting periods ranging from 40 to 60 days after the device has been fully paid off. Unlike its rivals, however, Verizon says that it will unlock the phone after the waiting period regardless of whether its paid off. Verizon has an agreement with the FCC not to limit its handsets ability to work on rival networks, which the company claims — perhaps incorrectly — that its new locking policies will follow, at least in spirit.
It's not clear when the phones will be unlocked after purchase. Verizon currently has the most generous unlocked phones policy of all wireless carriers, but according to CNET, that will be changing soon. In an effort to combat phone theft, Verizon will begin locking the phones it sells to consumers starting Monday. While the phones will immediately be unlocked as soon as the customer activates service, later this spring the wireless carrier will begin keeping phones locked for a certain amount of time after purchase. This is actually standard practice among US wireless carriers. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all require devices to be paid off before they can be unlocked; there's also an unlocking waiting period, ranging from 14 to 50 days after a customer makes a request. Verizon will not require customers to have paid off their phones to unlock them, and will continue to allow customers to use unlocked phones from other carriers. Verizon claims that the focus of this policy change is scammers and thieves who target brand new phones. Unlocked phones are a valuable target because they can be quickly resold on the domestic or international market. The timeline of this change isn't clear, but Verizon said it will provide an update before the policy goes into place. This change could really affect Verizon customers who travel internationally. Using an unlocked phone overseas is a standard practice for frequent travelers; it's simple to buy a SIM card and swap it out for your own. It's not clear whether Verizon will unlock the phone early at a purchaser's request once the policy is in place. Verizon owns Engadget's parent company, Oath (formerly AOL). Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.