American carriers slow to adopt ‘blacklist’ for stolen cell phones

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by Andrew Horansky / KHOU.com

kvue.com

Posted on November 10, 2012 at 7:47 PM

HOUSTON — Cell phone theft is among the fastest-growing forms of robbery nationwide, and the thieves are out of control.

Last month, a man waved a gun at workers inside a wireless store in Atlanta. In Los Angeles, a man brutally beat a woman inside her lobby for her phone.
In Houston, college student Sarah Tahmourpour said her phone was recently ripped from her hand. She said it happened at a nightclub, and that the thief quickly put it to use.
“They made several overseas calls to Japan and to Mexico,” she said.
According to the Major Cities Police Chief’s Association, Houston is now a leader in cell phone thefts. In March alone, there were more than 3,500. Dallas had 1,400 and Austin had 144.
Thieves know the phones have a high aftermarket value and can fetch more than watches or even jewelry. 
And experts say something could probably stop that.
Michael Garfield is host of the radio show “The High Tech Texan” and points out each phone has a unique thumb print similar to a VIN number.
He said companies could use that to disable a phone forever and destroy its after-market value. He believes many choose not to since stolen phones still make money.
“They’re thinking ‘well if we start deleting and banning phones and making sure they’re not in use, well that’s less monthly revenue that we’re going to be getting,’” he said.
But soon, that could change. This year more than 60 police chiefs signed off on a letter to the FCC recommending a blacklist for stolen phones.
If implemented, it would mean wireless companies would have to stop reactivating phones on the list.
An industry spokesman said they are listening, and that they plan to adopt the list by this time next year.
“It was the police chiefs literally picking up the phone and calling us and saying, ‘We need help,’” said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, spokesman for CTIA, The Wireless Association.
Ironically, many of the companies involved have already been observing lists overseas.
In the U.S., many carriers will no longer activate phones in their system which they know are stolen. But there is little to stop a thief from swapping out a SIM card and going to a different carrier altogether.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Tahmourpour said. “I think something should be done about it.”
A blacklist may soon be that "something." The question now is: What took so long?

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