Smart phones outsmart thieves


Smart phone theft is on the rise. Now, a new government initiative is being implemented to reduce the profitability of smart phone theft and protect millions of smart phone users across the country.

The cell phone theft prevention initiative includes several weapons. The first is a database, available later this year, that would allow cell phone theft victims to call their service providers and block the stolen cell phone from being used. The service providers must participate in the service for this option to be available to customers.

Smart phone makers and wireless providers will educate users on what they can do to protect themselves and their smart phones from theft. Lock/locate/wipe apps can be performed remotely; many cell phones already have password capability. The initiative will educate and encourage the public to take advantage of this feature.

The initiative was put in place because of dramatic increases in the number of violent crimes involving cell phone theft in major cities across the country. According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), 40 percent of all robberies in New York City involve cell phones.

Between 2007 and 2011, there was a 54 percent increase in cell phone theft during robberies in Washington, D.C. alone. Studies of other major cities show that cell phone robberies account for between 30 and 40 percent of all robberies. FCC officials point out that, “robberies are, by definition, violent crimes, and there are many instances of robberies targeting cell phones resulting in serious injury or even death.”

So, what happens to all the stolen cell phones? They are either used by the thief, or sold for cash to an unsuspecting or unscrupulous buyer. Either way, the stolen phone will need to be flashed (reprogrammed) in order for the new owner to use the phone discretely.

Making it difficult for thieves to flash stolen cell phones is at the heart of the government initiative. By partnering with local law enforcement agencies and several major wireless service providers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint, the FCC hopes to dramatically reduce the number of cell phone-related violent crimes.

The program is expected to expand over the next 18 months into a global effort. The major cell phone providers participating in the initial phase of the program account for 90 percent of the cell phone service in this country.