Whether a device has been left in a cab, lifted from your pocket, or innocently dropped and forgotten, cell phone theft has risen over the last few years. If a dishonest individual obtains a device, they not only have access to your personal information, but they can reuse or sell the device to others while incurring little or no cost. eBay and Craigslist provide easy avenues for sellers to unload a device and get rid of the evidence quickly. Other countries such as the UK, Australia, and France have a common database of these stolen devices. The number of thefts may not have disappeared in those countries, but a decline is evident. In the United States, however, each carrier has its own database. So, a stolen phone from AT&T may be restricted on the AT&T network, but may still be used on T-Mobile.
Today, the Wall Street Journal and other sites are reporting that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the major US cell carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon have agreed to build a central database to cover all stolen phones of all types. This is a good sign considering that as new technology such as LTE gets adopted across the industry, devices will be usable across multiple networks and increase the possible profit potential for thieves.
Don’t cheer too loudly just yet, as this process will take some time to develop, build, and combine systems with just the major carriers being onboard the first 18 months. Within 6 months, the four large cell providers will create their own databases. Within 12 months after those 6, the individual databases will be combined into one central system. Then the task moves to local or regional carriers to add to the database. The merging of the databases will be a task in and of itself as a common identifier will need to be decided on eventually. Currently, CDMA phones (Verizon and Sprint) have a serial number on the handset itself, whereas GSM phones (AT&T and T-Mobile) use mostly a SIM card to identify the phones. While technology exists to change the identifiers in a phone and it is easy to replace a SIM, the FCC is also looking for Congress to propose legislation making it a crime to modify these numbers.
This is good progress that will hopefully slow down the theft rate of cell phones in the US. Until this happens, keep an eye on your devices.
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