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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before