Forces mobilise on phone fraud

Network operators may not wait for the Government to outlaw 'cloning'. Charles Arthur reports

MOBILE phone operators are prepared to sponsor a private member's Bill in Parliament that would outlaw "cloned" phones, following the Government's sluggish reaction to their suggestions for legislation to fight fraud.

"It's a case of whether we'll need a private bill, or will we have to wait another two or three years for the Government to change the law," says Gary Bernstein, head of corporate security at Cellnet, one of the four networks (with Vodafone, Mercury One-2-One and Orange).

Last week, the Department of Trade and Industry said it was "considering" changes to the law suggested by a study group that included representatives of the four networks. A new law could impose a sentence of up to five years for making duplicate phones (cloning) and reconnecting stolen phones to networks (rechipping).

Ian Taylor, the science and technology minister, was guardedly positive about a change in the law, but his response implied that a shortage of Parliamentary time could derail legislation. But Mr Bernstein is determined. "This is the change we've been fighting for the past three years," he says. The matter is likely to come up tomorrow at a meeting of the mobile networks' security chiefs. Getting the changes introduced in a private bill would need the co-operation of an MP who wins a place in the draw for members' bills.

In 1994, mobile phone fraud cost the industry an estimated pounds 36m; this year, the figure is expected to be pounds 100m. The number of handsets bought grew by about 75 per cent. In August, there were 4.5 million in Britain.

However, each month about 12,000 are stolen, and about 4,000 are "cloned". In cloning, the phone number and "electronic signature number", or ESN, of an unsuspecting owner's handset are captured from the airwaves and fed into another handset. Phone theft costs about pounds 200 per incident, and contributes to 40 per cent of car break-ins in city centres. Cloning is undetectable until the owner receives a bill, often running into hundreds of pounds, for calls he or she never made. It has mushroomed by an estimated 500 per cent in the past year.

Yet under present British law, neither cloning nor rechipping a phone is an offence. In the US, it has been a federal offence for more than a year, and some states brought in legislation to outlaw it even earlier.

Although cloning and rechipping is only possible on Vodafone and Cellnet, which use analogue rather than digital technology, owners of digital handsets lose out, too. "Criminals tend to steal first and look later," says a spokesman for Mercury One-2-One, which runs a digital network, as does Orange. Analogue handsets outnumber digital ones by about four to one. At present, it is impossible to rechip or clone a digital handset.

The study group was set up in June, and included representatives from the Home Office and DTI as well as network operators and phone dealers. It delivered its recommendations earlier this month.

Its creation was a step forward. The Government previously resisted industry requests to make rechipping illegal. "I think the Government has been preoccupied before with the idea of the industry coming up with a technological fix," says David Savage, chairman of the Cellular Service Providers Group, which resells airtime for phones.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea