Mobile phone retailers crack down on theft

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The Independent Online
THE mobile phone industry is to mount its own crackdown on the problem of cellphone theft, now running at 15,000 cases a month.

Retailers and companies that provide airtime are banding together to stop dealers selling second-hand phones with no questions asked. Their professional body, the Federation of Communication Services, will next month bring in a set of guidelines to make sure dealers do not buy and sell phones without checking their origin.

Recalcitrant dealers would be stopped from trading, said the Federation's spokesman, David Savage, the most likely method being that airtime providers will refuse to connect dealers who do not comply with the code.

The mobile phone industry is staging its own campaign because it has been unable so far to persuade the Government to outlaw the "rechipping" of phones - changing their electronic passwords to make them reusable when stolen. It has written to every ChiefConstable seeking support for new legislation.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "We are aware that a large number of mobile phones are stolen. We are not convinced that new legislation really will have an effect but the door is not closed. If the industry gets its act together and still feels there is a need for legislation, then we are open to being persuaded."

"We are taking legal advice on our proposals to change the law," said David Savage. "There is no way of knowing whether a phone is stolen without checking. What we'll be saying to dealers is they have to check.

"With 15,000 phones being stolen each month it is only a matter of time before someone is killed in a mugging. It is too easy for the criminal fraternity to steal phones and re-sell them. We are paying criminals £2m to £3m a month for the privilege of reconnecting these phones. We will be telling people to be more diligent. If they refuse then we're going to stop them trading:''

As mobile phone ownership has soared - there are expected to be 10 million users in Britain by the end of the decade - so has theft, and the portable phone has replaced the video recorder as the ideal item to steal and resell.

An unscrupulous dealer will pay a thief around £50 for a stolen phone. Using a personal computer the dealer can "re-chip" the phone, giving it a new serial number. Once this is done the phone is virtually impossible to trace. The dealer can then re-connect the phone to another number and sell it on at a car boot sale or pub for £100.

Police in the West Midlands last week reported that during a special operation it checked 1,200 phones: a quarter had been stolen. Criminals can also steal other people's airtime by "cloning" - reconnecting phones to another person's number which is thenbilled.

Phone thieves have hijacked lorries and motorists have had phones snatched as they sit in traffic. Some have been assaulted and in September a London taxi driver died after he was mugged for his phone. Around 40 per cent of car crime in city centres is associated with mobile phone theft.