Stolen Cell Phones

Cell phone carriers team up to cut down on stolen cell phone market


In an effort to deter cell phone theft, U.S. wireless carriers have made a first step towards “a joint ‘blacklist’ database of identifying information about cell phones reported lost or stolen”. Now, cell phone companies check phones against the database before reactivating phones. Before this joint action, carriers would suspend the service on a phone after was reported as lost or stolen; this phone could still be reactivated by a thief on a new account. According to Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, “the point of the blacklist database is to dry up the aftermarket for stolen phones. If you can’t reactivate a stolen phone, it’s just a worthless hunk of plastic and metal.” [1]

Cell phone theft is common because many users will leave them laying around and not keep a close eye on them. One the device has been stolen, it is difficult to track down and recover. This joint database effort between carriers and retailers will help to cut down on the number of devices that are stolen. However, I believe that Guttman-McCabe’s comment that said stolen phones are only a “worthless hunk of plastic and metal” is not true. The phones can be cannibalized for parts and sold to people that are looking for parts to repair their phone.

In addition to thieves tearing the phones apart for individual parts, loopholes still exists that can still help thieves sell the stolen device. “For example, AT&T and T-Mobile use removable SIM cards to identify handsets, which are easily replaceable.” Additionally, thieves can use computer programs to modify the phone’s unique identification number. Stolen phones are also sold in other countries and activated on carriers in those countries. [2]

Regardless of the ability to sell stolen phone over seas, reprogram the phones ID, and selling individual components, the shared database will help reduce the number of stolen devices. The Wall Street Journal reported, “phone-related crimes in London have decreased by 25 percent in the last eight years despite a two-fold increase in usage”.


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