The rise in smartphone theft is continually growing. Every minute of every day, 100 phones are stolen throughout the U.S. According to the New York Attorney General, smartphones were stolen from 1.6 million victims in 2012 alone, costing these individuals billions in replacement fees and possible identity theft. Unfortunately, some victims are losing more than the smartphones – they’re losing their lives over the devices.
In some cases, the thieves use these smartphones for their own personal benefit, but in most instances, they are sold on the lucrative international black market. And once the phones are out of the owners’ hands, so is access to their email, social media accounts, financial accounts, and other private information.
To help combat smartphone theft in the U.S., the top four carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless – met with the FCC, CTIA (the international trade association for the wireless industry) and police chiefs across the U.S. to launch a U.S. stolen smartphone database in April 2012. In November 2013, CTIA took the initiative one step further by releasing a global, multi-carrier, common database for LTE smartphones days ahead of its November 30 deadline.
Through the database, carriers can block activation of 4G and 3G smartphones anywhere in the world. Relying on IMEI serial numbers instead of carrier-controlled SIM cards, the database limits the number of outlets to which thieves can sell these stolen smartphones. Users simply have to report their information to their carrier who will enter it into the database.
The international element
However, the new database depends on collaboration with the international market. Said CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent in a press release from the organization, “As more countries and more carriers around the world participate in the 3G and 4G/LTE databases, criminals will have fewer outlets since these stolen phones would be blacklisted and could not be reactivated.”
That international element is a crucial piece that has been missing from the current database and one that is necessary for the initiative to succeed.
“While the U.S. database has been active for a year, New York City officials say it hasn’t made a real dent in smartphone thefts,” reported The Verge. “Since foreign carriers weren’t included in the original effort, organized crime syndicates are literally fronting truckloads of cash to shop stolen smartphones overseas where they can be sold without fear.”
In addition, San Francisco district attorney George Gascón has pointed out that the U.K.’s database has not slowed down smartphone crime in that country.
Gascón, like other attorneys general throughout U.S., is pushing for the smartphone killswitch, which allows a smartphone to be deactivated once stolen. Carriers argue that killswitches allow hackers to disable phones that are currently in use by their owners; Gascón defends his theory that carriers are too worried about the financial hit they would face if customers stopped taking out insurance to cover stolen smartphones.
Even a large chunk of the CTIA press release places the emphasis on customers, rather than the database, urging them to be attentive to their surroundings and purchasing apps that can deter smartphone robberies. Remarked Largent in the release, “We encourage customers to use currently available apps and features that would remotely wipe, track and lock their devices in case they are lost or stolen, and our members are continuing to explore and offer new technologies.”
Since the database is new and not yet proven, it’s important to take Largent’s advice and do everything possible to protect your smartphone and your personal information. One picked pocket or snatched purse and your personal data is in someone else’s hands.