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Gov claims mobile phone theft waning as penalty rises

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Mobile phone theft has almost been eliminated, according to the Home Office.

It announced last week that 80 per cent of handsets are now blocked within 48 hours of the theft being notified, and new jail terms have been introduced for those found attempting to reprogramme stolen handsets.

The use of SIM chips allowed stolen phones to be easily used and has contributed to the huge number of phones nicked each year.

However, every phone has a unique identifier, the IMEI, which is sent to the network during registration - so it's just a matter of getting all the networks to use a central blacklist of stolen kit which can then be blocked.

The Central Equipment Identification Register (CEIR) keeps a list of all stolen handsets, as reported by the public to the network operators, and each day the operators download a copy of that list. This should mean that any handset stolen can be blocked within 48 hours of being reported, and it seems this is happening in a large majority of cases.

Blocking the IMEI doesn't make the phone useless, it just prevents it being used on a network connected to the CEIR. However, many networks around the world aren't connected to the CEIR.

It takes national legislation to force network operators to use the CEIR, but even then a stolen handset might have some value if it can be re-programmed with a different IMEI.

Changing the IMEI on a phone is difficult and has been illegal in the UK since 2002. As of Friday, even offering to reprogramme it could land you five years in chokey.

So stolen phones can be shipped abroad or illegally re-programmed, but there are other reasons a phone might disappear:

Insurance fraud on mobile phones is endemic, with everyone wanting a free upgrade, while muggers will generally take a phone to prevent a quick call to the police.

So what we have is an announcement that a policy brought in five years ago is finally working, in the UK at least, and a new law making it an offence to offer to break the previous law.

Hardly enough to "drive down street crime and make people safer in their communities" as promised by the Home Office. ®

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