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Senator Urges Cellphone Companies To Deactivate Stolen Phones

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today asked major cell phone carriers to utilize technology currently available that can permanently shut down stolen cell phones as a means to reduce the rapidly growing theft of iPhones and other smart phone devices.

According to the New York Police Department, almost half of all property thefts in New York City are related to cell phones. When cell phones are reported stolen, many American cell phone companies only deactivate the phone’s “SIM” card, which is the data storage component of the device. While deactivation of a SIM card does not allow for the device to be used with existing data and account information, SIM cards are easily removed and replaced, allowing stolen phones to be easily resold on the black market. Instead of relying on the deactivation of a SIM card, Schumer urged the major phone carriers in the United States to deactivate stolen phones based on a unique number assigned to individual devices, called an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, in order to help combat rising cell phone theft. The technology is already effectively in use in Europe. Schumer also urged the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to help individual carriers implement a similar system that maximizes both theft deterrence and network security.

“The use of iPhones and smart phones is exploding, but unfortunately so are thefts of these expensive devices,” said Schumer. “Luckily, there is an ‘app’ for that: By using the unique ID number assigned to every device, cell phone companies can shut down the ability to use a stolen iPhone or smart phone and put would-be thieves out of business. While cell phones have become a convenient way to communicate on the go, they are also a convenient target for thieves who know they can make a pretty penny selling them on the black market.”

“I applaud Sen. Schumer for helping taking some of the incentive out of cell phone thefts, which all too often have been responsible for spikes in robbery and larceny in New York City. I look forward to working with him in this effort,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

IMEI numbers, unlike SIM cards, are assigned exclusively to each cell phone and are not replicated. In the United Kingdom, carriers have the ability to disable handsets based on IMEIs, serial numbers, or other unique identifiers. This prevents criminals from swapping SIM cards to activate a stolen cell phone. Verizon already uses this on its own network in the United States.

According to the NYPD, cell phone robberies in New York are being fueled by the fact that stolen phones, like the iPhone and Android phones, are easily resold on the black market because they use SIM card technology. The NYPD notes that for the first six months of 2011, 41% of all property crimes in New York City involved cell phones.  There were 10,650 property crimes that included a cell phone in 2009; 10,746 in 2010; and for the first seven months of 2011, 6,608 property crimes in New York City included a cell phone; if phones continue to be stolen at this rate, there will be 11,328 thefts by the end of the year. The NYPD also reported earlier this year that there has been an 18% increase in grand larceny involving a cell phone between January and March 2011 on subways, over the same time period in 2010.

In a recently released report by mobile-security startup Lookout, New York City ranked number two for the city with the greatest amount of cell phone theft or loss, behind only Miami, with 49% of New Yorkers reporting that they have had their phone stolen or lost. Cell phone robbery can also mean assault: just last week, a 16-year-old boy was beaten up and robbed inside a train station in Brooklyn, and in March two Long Island teenagers were beaten and robbed of their phones.

Schumer, in a letter to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Nextel, called on the companies to begin using similar IMEI technology to help prevent cell phone robberies and reduce the number of cell phones being sold on the black market. Currently, AT&T, the major carrier for iPhones, as well as T-Mobile, and Nextel, do not use IMEI technology and instead deactivate SIM cards. Schumer also requested the United States Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission study the system in place in the United Kingdom, in which carriers are able to deactivate handsets based on serial numbers, and help carriers in the United States implement a similar system that maximizes both theft deterrence and network security.

“As these phones become increasingly popular we can help stem the tide of their theft by making it clear a stolen phone is a worthless phone to a criminal,” continued Schumer.

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)

4 Responses

  1. #1- I was going to say just that. Even the 4G phones which have SIM cards are also deactivated when reported stolen. The only thing is, most of the people who steal these things don’t realize that it might be worthless.

  2. #2
    Wake up and smell the coffee. Not everybody is a right wing nut. Believe it or not people who do not hold your extremist vierws also have good ideas.

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