An easy way to curb smart-phone thieves

Big Don

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Sep 2, 2007
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Sanger CA
An easy way to curb smart-phone thieves
December 03, 2011|C.W. Nevius, Chronicle Columnist
SF Gate SF Chronicle EXCERPT:

The idea that your smart phone could make you vulnerable to a thief has triggered a strong reaction.

Earlier this week I highlighted this problem and readers asked why the cell phone's serial number couldn't be used to block stolen phones, rendering them useless.

I assumed that idea was simplistic. Surely there was a good reason why it wouldn't work.

There isn't.

Randal Markey of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association explained that not only is it possible for carriers to block the use of stolen phones, Australian phone carriers have done it for nearly 10 years.
"What it means is stealing a phone is a complete waste of time," Markey said. "Although the thief could probably use it as a paperweight."

But American phone companies aren't doing that. When asked why, representatives from Sprint, Verizon and AT&T instead touted their apps to locate a lost phone or wipe out a SIM card. But that's not the issue. Petty thieves ditch the SIM card immediately. That doesn't shut down the phone.

Australia uses something akin to a serial number, basically a 15-digit fingerprint found on every phone. That number is transmitted every time the phone is used. A database crosschecks the number and blocks service to anyone who uses a stolen phone. The service is free to cellular customers.

When American carriers are asked why they don't do the same, there is a lot of huffing and puffing and hand waving, but none of it is very convincing. Frankly, the carriers don't gain anything from putting in this service, and actually add customers if someone signs up a stolen phone with them. As for the phone companies, every stolen phone is a potential new sale.

Companies would never want to admit that stolen phones are good for their bottom line. And they don't have a good excuse for why they can't implement something that has been successful in Australia.

All three of Australia's phone companies began blocking service to stolen phones in 2003. The results have been dramatic.

The mobile association found that phone thefts have dropped 25 percent since 2004. That's impressive, but especially when you consider that that the number of cell phones has increased from roughly 15 million to over 26 million in the same time period.
That 15 digit number is probably the imei.
OK, this actually is a greedy corporation thing.


Orange Belt
Jun 28, 2010
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Odd. My phone was stolen on Christmas Eve. I reported it stolen on the AT&T's website and was able to shut off service as well. No problems.


Crazy like a...
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Jan 16, 2006
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Odd. My phone was stolen on Christmas Eve. I reported it stolen on the AT&T's website and was able to shut off service as well. No problems.

Shutting off service just means you won't incur any more charges from your stolen phone. It does not prevent the stolen phone from being reactivated (with different billing information).