April 11, 2012 in Business

System will block use of stolen smartphones

Eric Tucker Associated Press
 
Theft target

Officials say that cellphones are now taken in 38 percent of all robberies in Washington, D.C., and more than 40 percent of robberies in New York City involve phones. Many of the robberies are violent, resulting in serious injury or sometimes even death, police say.

WASHINGTON – Major wireless service companies have agreed to disable cellphones after they are reported stolen under a strategy intended to deter the theft and resale of wireless devices.

The system announced Tuesday relies on a centralized database that officials hope to have operating within six months. The database will record smartphones’ unique identifying numbers. That way, wireless carriers that receive a report of a stolen smartphone will be able to recognize the device and block it from being used again.

Major U.S. cities have been reporting increases in smartphone thefts as criminals steal devices to resell – sometimes overseas – as part of sophisticated operations. Cellphone carriers covering roughly 90 percent of U.S. subscribers are participating, the FCC said.

The goal is to render stolen cellphones useless, drying up the market and removing the incentive to steal them.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is sponsoring legislation that would make it a federal crime to tamper with smartphones’ unique identifying numbers.

The FCC said smartphone manufacturers will also implement automatic prompts that encourage users to lock their devices with a password.

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