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AT&T sues three former employees over secret phone-unlocking scheme

If you wanted to unlock an AT&T phone in 2013, Swift Unlocks had you covered. The company would sell unlock codes for anything from an iPhone to a Fire Phone, letting AT&T customers wriggle out of their contracts long before the subsidy was paid off. All you had to do was pay a fee — anywhere from $10 to $150 — and Swift Unlocks would send along the necessary unlock codes. The only question was, how did they get them?

According to a new lawsuit from AT&T, it was an inside job. The company has taken legal action against Swift Unlocks and three former AT&T employees for a six-month scheme that allegedly saw hundreds of thousands of unlock codes funneled out of company computers. The company first noticed the scheme when it saw a noticeable uptick in the number of unlock requests issued by two call-center employees, often within milliseconds of each other. According to the complaint, Swift Unlocks paid the employees more than $10,000 to install a remote access tool, allowing instantaneous access to any unlock code. Unfortunately for the accused, those requests were still being made under their own employee codes, so the company quickly traced the new requests back to them. "It’s important to note that this did not involve any improper access of customer information, or any adverse effect on our customers," an AT&T spokesman told The Verge.

Swift Unlocks paid more than $10,000 to install a remote access tool

The scheme took place between April and October of 2013, less than a year before a federal law would make unlocking fully legal. (Notably, the charges facing Swift Unlocks have more to do with breaking into AT&T's computer systems than the act of unlocking itself.) Schemes to unlock the phones without carrier permission have been common, particularly for large carriers like AT&T that have to manage large number of unlock codes. During the same period, AT&T was hacked by a criminal organization looking to unlock stolen phones before selling them, a breach that also resulted in a $25 million fine from the FCC.

2:43PM ET: Updated to include AT&T statement.