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North Americans just don't steal handsets, apparently...

Rogers dodgers

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Back in 2005, when he lost his three-day-old Motorola v 635, Pete Gillespie immediately phoned his cell provider, Canada's Rogers Wireless. Among other things, he urged the cellco giant to blacklist the phone's IMEI number so that miscreants couldn't reconnect his $600 purchase to the Canadian airwaves. But the company said it didn't do such things.

Then, just this week, Gillespie lost a second phone: his Blackberry 8820. And three years on, Rogers again said it doesn't do IMEI blacklisting. "They won't trace the IMEI in any way to see if the phone is back on the network, and if there's a GPS in the phone, they won't use that to recover the thing," Gillespie tells The Reg. "They just say that these are things their network does not support."

Among North American wireless providers, Rogers is not alone. Though most of western Europe has spent the past several years blacklisting the IMEI numbers of lost and stolen phones, US and Canadian providers continue to ignore the practice.

"Presently, we don't have any North American operators connected to our [IMEI blacklist] database," says James Moran, fraud and security director of the GSM Association (GSMA). "When we've raised the issue with these operators in the past, what they've said is that handset theft has not been an issue North America - or least not to the same degree it has been in Europe and the rest of the world."

This is not an argument Moran is inclined to believe. But he does say that just this week, a Canadian provider phoned him to "express interest" in IMEI blacklisting. "Though we haven't heard anything from the US," he added.

Scandinavian operators have been sharing stolen handset data since the mid-nineties. And early this decade, the GSMA standardized the practice, urging member companies to blacklist according to the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number that uniquely identifies each GSM and 3G handset. That includes North American members. But six years on, they've yet fall in line.

Nonetheless, a Rogers spokeswoman tells us the company "is very concerned about the trends in handset theft and its impact to our handset manufacturing partners, our distribution channels and our customers." The company also says its "always reviewing its policies." But at the moment, those policies are behind the times.

This morning, when Pete Gillespie spoke to someone from Rogers "Customer Relations" team, she confirmed that any lost or stolen could easily be reactivated on the company's network. But she also told Gillespie it was his responsibility to lock his own phone. "When I told her that a simple re-flashing of the phone would remove any such locks," Gillespie says, "she did not have much of a response."

More importantly, IMEI blacklisting would discourage handset theft. But North American providers aren't likely to acknowledge this unless they first acknowledge that handsets do indeed get stolen. ®

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