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Tougher laws planned to combat mobile phone thefts - report

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The UK Government is looking to tackle some of the "causes of crime" by making it easier to cuff villains who trade in stolen mobile phones. With an estimated 700,000 handsets nicked each year in the UK, the Government is concerned that these small, valuable and desirable items are fuelling thefts and muggings.

The problem is so bad in London it's estimated that one in ten reported crimes are due to the theft of handsets.

Although mobile operators use a phone's unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number to block the handset once it's been reported stolen to prevent it from being used, crooks are using software to unblock the phones so they can be resold.

In a bid to make it easier to arrest those who unblock the phones, The Guardian has learned that The Home Office is looking to tighten the laws surrounding the reprogramming of cellphones.

Instead of having to prove that phones have been tampered with, the new law would mean that offering or agreeing to unblock a phone would be an offence.

While the National Mobile Phone Unit has arrested 200 people over the last two years on suspicion of reprogramming stolen phones, police say that collaring suspects is time consuming taking a long time to set up "sting" operations.

In January the Government launched a campaign warning young people to keep their hi-tech gadgets under wraps to protect themselves from being robbed.

At the time Home Office minister Hazel Blears said the government is "determined to increase young people's safety" by urging them to take simple precautions such as keeping mobile phones hidden and not flashing about valuables like MP3 players. ®

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