Nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco last year involved a mobile phone; in Washington, a record 42% of robberies saw mobile phones taken. In New York, theft of iPhones and iPads last year accounted for 14% of all crimes. According to the Telegraph, Police and industry sources now admit that the sophistication of the criminal groups involved, and the international element of mobile phone theft is making it incredibly hard to counter. In the UK, as in America, mobile phones theft is on the climb, up 25% in the last three years with smartphones stolen in Britain being sold for up to £1,000 on the international black market.
Thieves target popular ‘hot’ products, especially tablets and mobile phones. These C.R.A.V.E.D (concealable, removable, available, enjoyable and disposable) products can pass along a variety of routes to be turned into cash, from selling to second-hand shops and market-stalls, or via internet auction sites, on-line classified adverts and particularly now via recycling companies.
Working closely with the Home Office and Telecommunications Industry the NMPCU in the UK has completed more than 450 operations around the UK targeting thieves, handlers and exporters of stolen phones.
Currently 90% of handsets reported stolen in the UK are blocked within 48 hours of reporting. However phones blocked in the UK can still be used abroad. The UK Government is striving to control this illicit trade with a new code of practice to prevent stolen mobile phones being sold to recycling companies which are then exported abroad, many still with personal and business critical data intact.
Phone trafficking will continue to be driven largely by the massive profits made by exploiting the price difference between smartphones when sold overseas. Americans who agree to two-year service contracts with their mobile phone company can buy the latest iPhone, subsidised by the operator, for about $200. In Hong Kong, an iPhone can currently be sold for as much as $2,000. As a result, US consumers now spend an estimated $30 billion each year replacing their lost and stolen devices.
Mexican drug cartels are known to use stolen phones to communicate with kidnapping victims’ relatives without being traced. In 2009, the US charged Hezbollah operatives in Philadelphia with attempting to buy thousands of stolen cell phones for shipping to Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates to finance the Shiite militant organization, regarded as a terrorist group by America.
In the face of such serious criminal activity and such high profiteering, the theft and resale of phones will not go away. The answer has to come from the handset manufacturers and network operators. Only by providing as a matter of course the international tracking and kill switch capabilities to make handset theft redundant can this activity be stopped.