De-chips are down for the mobile phone thieves

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The Independent Online
THE MOBILE telecommunications industry is demanding changes in the law to stem mobile telephone thefts, which have escalated to 12,000 a month.

The industry is concerned that it is legal for people to change the electronic serial number of mobile telephone - a process known as 'de-chipping' - making easier to sell stolen telephones.

David Savage, chairman of the Federation of Communications Services, met Patrick McLoughlin, the trade minister, last week and has further meetings with officials at the Department of Trade and Industry today.

He has asked the minister to move to outlaw de-chipping during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr Savage said: 'Not enough has been done to address the epidemic of mobile telephone theft sweeping the UK.

'It is not only a commercial problem - people are being mugged and vans hijacked and it is only a matter of time before someone is killed.'

He has written to MPs, alleging that 40 per cent of all car crime in city centres and 8 per cent in rural areas is a result of telephone theft.

Thieves can reprogramme the telephones with new serial numbers, using widely-available software and equipment.

In some cases they programme them with another serial number already in use so that someone else gets billed for the calls made from the stolen telephone.

The FCS said that others might use new blocks of serial numbers stolen from Oftel, the regulator, before they can be allocated to telephone manufacturers.

Some dealers say that de-chipping is needed in the legitimate second-hand trade.

However, Mr Savage said that the issue had become too serious to ignore.

The problem would persist with new digital telephones in which a removable smartcard will hold users details instead of a computer chip in the telephone.