Caller ID: Rendering thieves dumb on snatching smart phones

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The days of easy cash for stolen smart phones may be coming to an end. In six months, the mobile service companies that provide service to 90 percent of all smart phones will have a national database that will be used to disconnect phones that have been reported stolen.

With consumers increasingly targeted for snatch-and-grabs by thieves who fence stolen smart phones to crooked dealers and individuals, rendering a phone useless before it goes on the black market removes the profit motive. If the phones aren't active, they're just attractive paperweights.

Because of a voluntary agreement between the Federal Communications Commission and AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint, criminals will soon face a united front of service providers eager to thwart their felonious business model.

With the FCC's blessing, the carriers are assembling a database of identification numbers that will be embedded in all smart phones. Once the phones are reported lost or stolen, they will be sent a shutdown command that denies service use. Similar systems are already in use in Britain and Australia.

As with many technological solutions, clever criminals may eventually figure how to disable the ID numbers and make the stolen phones work again, but the vast majority of thieves will be out of luck. Congress should make activating a disabled smart phone a federal crime.

Raising the stakes on smart phone thieves is the only way to make stealing them a dumb proposition.


First Published April 15, 2012 12:00 AM


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