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Wireless carriers to create national database to help fight mobile phone theft

With the proliferation of mobile phone usage in the US, the theft of such devices has, inevitably, increased too. Over 40 percent of reported robberies in New York City, for example, involve the taking of a smartphone, while in Washington DC mobile phone theft increased by 54 percent between 2007 and 2011.

With the problem threatening to get out of control, US Senator Charles Schumer announced on Monday night that the Federal Communications Commission, together with the country’s major wireless carriers, will be setting up a centralized database of ID numbers unique to each mobile device that will soon help to make a stolen phone “as worthless as an empty wallet.”

Carriers currently deal with a stolen mobile phone by disabling its SIM card, but they can be easily replaced, allowing a thief to re-activate a handset before selling it on. The new system will enable carriers to permanently disable a stolen device.

It is hoped a database operated by each carrier will be up and runnnig by October this year, allowing the victim of a phone theft to contact their wireless provider to ask for their device to be put out of action.

Within the next 18 months, Schumer said, the carriers will combine information on their databases in an effort to prevent phones from being altered and then used on the network of another carrier.

It’s hoped the new system will make the idea of stealing phones less attractive to criminals and as a result significantly reduce the trade in stolen devices.

According to a Washington Post report, the Federal Communications Commission — together with DC police chief Cathy Lanier and New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly — will announce the initiative at a press conference on Tuesday. The announcement will also include news of a bill that will make it an offense to tamper with the ID information associated with each phone.

Lanier told the Post she would like to see the database up and running as soon as possible as crime units around the country are becoming increasingly swamped by reports of such crimes.

“We all have to do our part. This is our society saying we’re not going to take it anymore,” she said.

The proposed plan will also incorporate a program where carriers will educate phone owners about how to lock their devices remotely, how to delete information on the phone and how to track its location. This will be of particular benefit to smartphone owners, many of whom hold a lot of sensitive personal information on their handsets.

If you own an iPhone, don’t forget you can use the Find My iPhone service to help you should you become separated from your handset. Find My iPhone enables you to remotely lock and erase all personal data held on the device if you lose it or have it stolen. And if you happen to misplace your phone, the service will help you locate it on a map. Owners of Android-powered devices can get similar functionality from Where’s My Droid.

[Source: WP, NY Times] [Image: Adrian Britton / Shutterstock]