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IMEI numbers no antidote to mobile fraud

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The retention and reporting of IMEI numbers is no solution to mobile phone theft, a number of Reg readers have informed us. Police are currently pushing for greater awareness of IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers, which can be found from your phone by typing "* # 0 6 #".

This 15-digit number is unique to a particular phone and is recorded by mobile companies every time the phone is used. The police have launched an advertising campaign to get people to write down their IMEI number and report it to them if the phone is stolen. The aim is to cut back on mobile theft which is increasing rapidly, especially in cities.

However, the IMEI number is stored on rewriteable flash memory and so can be overridden. We questioned how easy it was to wipe and replace IMEI numbers and a number of knowledgeable readers have been in touch to tell just how simple it is.

According to one reader, a "geezer" in Leicester that runs a mobile phone stall will recode the IMEI number for £25. He does an afternoon-return service if you get it to him before midday apparently. And he uses little more than a laptop.

Several readers have backed this up, assuring us that changing the IMEI needs no more a piece of software downloadable off the Net and a connection between your PC and the phone in question.

It goes further than this though. A man who works for a telecom fraud company no less has told us that fraudsters are far in advance of changing the IMEI number once. According to him, in a system called "tumbling", people change the IMEI and IMSI (Sim card equivalent) every time a call is made.

And following a link to a particular Web site, we found not only the software needed to change the numbers but also a phone-by-phone breakdown of everything you could possibly want to do with each. In short, if someone is going to go to the trouble of stealing phones, they will be more than likely be aware of how to bypass the weak security that exists on them.

It would seem then that Jack Straw will have to push for a whole new level of hard-wired security in phones if he wants to achieve his aim of bringing phone theft down. ®

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