FCC is working to reduce cell phone theft

A new measure taken by the Federal Communications Commission and four wireless phone providers will make it more difficult to use a lost or stolen phone.

In 2011, Lookout, a mobile phone security company, reported that it located 9 million lost smartphones. Based on that data sample, Lookout concludes that the average American loses a phone about once a year. Losing a phone can be a costly experience beyond the $200 to $300 it typically costs to replace the hardware. Many users also suffer because they fail to protect their phone with a password, and as a result personal contacts, e-mail, social-media accounts and other sensitive information is at risk. You don’t even have to buy an “app” to password protect your phone. Most operating systems have that as a feature.

Only about half of lost phones were returned in to a trial that placed and tracked "lost" phones in several cities carried out recently by Symantec, an internet security firm. Nearly all who found the lost phones tried to access the information on the phone.

Cellphone companies and the government are trying to make it more difficult to use a lost or stolen cellphone. The four major wireless providers in the United States have partnered with the Federal Communications Commission to set up a database of identification numbers that are unique to each phone.

In an effort to curb cell phone theft, using the list cellular carriers will be able to permanently disable a phone once it has been reported missing. Until now, U.S. carriers have only been disabling so-called “SIM” cards, which can be swapped in and out. That has enabled a black market to exist for stolen phones.

The wireless companies will build a central database of stolen cell phones, which will track phones that are reported as lost or stolen and deny them voice and data service. The goal of the database is to reduce crime by making it very difficult to use a stolen device. Verizon Wireless and Sprint currently block phones that are reported stolen from being reactivated. Carriers will roll out individual databases within the next six months that will be centralized over a 12-month period. Smaller regional wireless providers are expected to join the database over the next two years.

Similar stolen-phone databases are already in place in the U.K., Germany, France and Australia. While crime hasn’t completely stopped, the number of incidents has apparently declined.

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