Stealing a mobile has been made 'pointless'

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Stealing a mobile phone will officially become pointless today with the introduction by network operators of a shared database that lets them disable any phone remotely.

Stealing a mobile phone will officially become pointless today with the introduction by network operators of a shared database that lets them disable any phone remotely.

The introduction of the database – nearly a month late – will help the Government to fulfil its pledge to reduce street crime but it cannot save the claim made by the Prime Minister in April that he would reduce street crime by the end of September. The Home Office estimates that between 500,000 and 770,000 mobile phones are stolen each year in the UK.

The new Central Equipment Identity Register will let operators create a blacklist of the unique numbers – called IMEIs – embedded in each handset, and prevent them accessing networks. Unlike the SIM card or the phone number, the IMEI is integral to the phone's electronics, and can only be changed with specialist equipment, illegal in the UK.

Mobile networks hope to extend the scheme to other countries, which would make it harder for organised gangs to ship stolen phones abroad. "A lot of stolen phones do end up abroad," said Jack Wraith, executive chairman of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum. "It's something we're very conscious of. We've even spoken to Australia and New Zealand about extending it there."

The Government had expected the mobile companies to have the system ready by early October. But a spokesman for Orange said: "We had to wait for Vodafone and O2 to get their systems running, and then to agree a common format."

Previously, each company could block phones on their own network, once they knew its IMEI but could not pass it to the other networks. That made it easy for criminals to steal phones and use them on other networks with stolen SIM cards.