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Home Office mobe theft fight doubles in importance

Stolen phones in runaway value explosion

The Home Office has published guidelines asking recyclers to check if phones are stolen, claiming that the business is worth £5m a year despite it being only worth £2.5m eight weeks ago.

When the then-Labour government started on the guidelines telling companies to continue doing what most of them were doing already, we were told that 100,000 phones were being stolen and sold to the recyclers every year, with an average value of £25 per handset. Today that 100,000 figure remains the same, but the average price has jumped to £40.

That's according to the Home Office press release, but take a look at the supporting website and that average figure has jumped another tenner, to £50 a handset. So now the business is worth £5m a year, and if current trends continue it could be worth twice that by the end of this article.

We can only assume that the jump is down to all those stolen iPhones and high-end Android handsets, otherwise we'd be obliged to attribute it to a government department that wants to look as though it's fighting a £5m-a-year crime rather than a £2.5m-a-year crime, and simply changed the numbers to make that happen.

The numbers come from Recipero, which tells us that the figure has indeed jumped to £40 a handset in the last two months but denies responsibility for the £50 figure. Recipero, by happy coincidence, runs the largest of the databases against which recycling companies will be required to check donated phones – for a small fee of course.

That fee is in addition to the £750 annual charge recycling companies will have to pay to sign up to the voluntary code (for a minimum of three years). That money goes to the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum (TUFF), which will presumably also be responsible for checking that companies don't lie on their self-assessment form.

The vast majority of companies already check serial numbers (IMEI) against the international database of locked handsets, and with so many countries signed up there aren't many places where one can reasonably sell locked handsets. But it's true that until now there's been no official procedure regarding what to do if a stolen handset does arrive.

The new guidelines (pdf) do spell out those steps, but it's going to be down to the general public to stop selling old handsets to companies that refuse to stump up for the scheme, and we're not convinced that the general public cares enough to bother. ®

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