With Smartphone Thefts Rising, Are Carriers Doing Enough?

Wireless carriers profit when smartphones are stolen from their subscribers.

Wireless carriers profit when smartphones are stolen from their subscribers.

Last year, a lawsuit was brought against wireless provider AT&T, claiming that it and other cell carriers aren’t doing much in the way of tracking down and disabling stolen phones.

The plaintiffs alleged that wireless carriers turned a blind eye in order to sell new service to the thieves bringing stolen phones into stores while selling new devices to the victims.

Soon after the case brought attention to their lack of effort to do much about cellphone theft, AT&T and other wireless carriers created a nationwide database that would help track stolen phones by their IMEI number. AT&T also created a stolen phone site that includes safety tips.

Unfortunately, these measures don’t seem to be working so well. As the New York Times reported, the national stolen phone database doesn’t help with stolen phones that are shipped overseas, as it’s not too difficult to modify a phone’s IME I number.

Since thefts of cellphones end up being profitable for wireless carriers, there’s really not much incentive for them to address the issue. It was first last year that there started to be an increase in legal pressure on wireless providers to do something, but law enforcement argues that the carriers don’t do enough.

“The carriers are not innocent in this whole game. They are making profit off this,” said Cathy L. Lanier, chief of the District of Columbia police, where 1,829 devices were taken in robberies last year- a new record.

Some people are comparing the phone theft epidemic to the car theft problem that ran rampant over a decade ago, until antitheft tech was improved by auto manufacturers.

“If you look at auto theft, it has really plummeted in this country because technology has advanced so much and the manufacturers recognize the importance of it,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director for the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group focused on improving policing. “The cellphone industry has for the most part been in denial. For whatever reasons, it has been slow to move.”

Photo by elfuthamucka

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