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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 12:39 GMT
Phone crime: How can it be stopped?
A Home Office report is set to reveal that the theft of mobile phones has risen five-fold in the last two years.
It is estimated that 710,000 handsets were stolen with children being the most common victims.
The government has repeated calls to mobile phone networks to improve security.
Three of the networks, Virgin, One to One and Orange, can already immobilise phones if they are given the number, effectively making it useless.
However, BT Cellnet and Vodafone have refused to put the technology in place citing lack of customer demand.
Some of the robberies involve violence - on New Year's Day a 19-year-old woman was shot in the head by a mugger who was trying to steal her mobile phone.
In a vote when we asked users of this site if they had been a victim of a mobile phone theft, out of the 2,000 votes, 20% said they had. The vote was not scientific, but an indication of the problem.
Have you been a victim of phone crime? What do you think can be done to stop it?
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
When I got my first mobile it had a wonderful feature. You could turn the phone on, leave it locked and still receive calls. That way if it was stolen the phone was locked and therefore useless. Every phone I've had after that has a SIM lock or a phone lock that has to be entered first leaving your phone totally open if nicked. Why did the companies do this?
I work in the IT sector and there are devices such as Bio-Metrics which enable the user to use their finger print to gain access to their PC. I am sure that this technology could be used on mobile phones. If it is more expensive than so be it. It is then up to the consumer to choose to either purchase a mobile phone with this feature or not.
In addition, do you not think that mobile phone crime has increase because so many school kids use mobile phones? I think children having a mobile phones helps children's security more than exposing them to the risk of theft. I would be willing to bet that the majority are lost by careless kids who are too worried or scared to tell there parents they lost it on so they say it was stolen. Just a hunch, but we were all kids once.
Everyone appears to be unaware of the true problem. Companies such as Vodaphone are supplying people with vast quantities of mobile phones. They register the phones, remove the sim cards and then the phones are shipped abroad to be sold at exorbitant profit. The sim cards then come onto the UK market where thieves or purchasers of stolen phones are then able to purchase them and then use the registered sim card to re-activate the stolen phones. It is that simple.
Ali Cowan, UK
Handling stolen goods is a serious offence. So why do some mobile networks think that they can be so dismissive about barring stolen handsets from their systems? It seems a pretty small distinction between handling stolen goods and earning revenue from the use of stolen handsets.
There is a simple technical method of reducing this crime wave that was been implemented by the phone manufacturers for some time. SIM pin numbers and Phone pin numbers.
I'd say the number of actual muggings for a mobile phone is far less than that reported - getting a new phone (often a newer and better model) is a easy as reporting it stolen and claiming on the insurance. For a cash strapped teenager who has to have the latest model, it's an easy option and, although it's fraud, the chances of getting caught are nil. As for those who say that greater punishments are needed for those who actually do mug for a mobile phone, the laws are already in place. If you shoot someone in the head, you can be jailed for life. If you seriously assault someone, you can be jailed for ten years. If you commit a minor assault, you can be jailed for four years. The solution is not stricter punishments. It's increasing people's perceptions of their chances of getting caught and punished - a more visible police presence is required, as is CCTV surveillance of trouble spots.
The Police work within the justice system society has shaped for them and until society reshapes that system we are all stuck with it. People should be lobbying their MP's about these issues and seeking to have Parliament change the law. We need to move away from the liberal ideology of compassion for the criminal to one where the pain felt by the victim is paramount. Don't get me wrong we need to have proper rehabilitation programs within prisons to try and reform offenders but the balance has swung too far to the side of the criminal. Prison needs to be a place where people don't want to go not a slimmed down holiday resort!
My mobile was stolen 2 days before my sister's funeral last year. She'd died very suddenly, I was essentially a mess, and there were a lot of her friend's numbers stored in my phone that I'd not had a chance to write down on paper. This made it that extra bit harder to keep in touch with people at a time when we really needed it. Doubtless the guy who barged past me on Seven Sister's Station, grabbing my cheap Nokia as he went, wasn't thinking too hard about the consequences of what he was doing. One solution to phone-related crime might be for the phone-related criminals to stop taking such an arrogant attitude to other people's lives.
For years the social workers have resisted any attempt to permit criminals of any age to be treated as such, the Police have been hamstrung by operating procedures that make prosecuting juveniles next to impossible, the result - a massive and continual rise in crime committed by the untouchables.
If you want to stop crime, deal with first offenders firmly. Criminals will continue to take advantage of the weakness of the so called Criminal Justice system, until the victims stop accepting what the "experts" say.
If we actually had a government in this country with the slightest bit of backbone maybe they would make it illegal for a judge not to give a prison sentence for theft. Call it 5 years for something like a mobile phone, then if they behave well they get out in five years, any bad behaviour and another year is added for each incident. Car thieves should get a 10-15 year sentence. Murderers and paedophiles should never ever be freed, they must die in prison. If this policy jams up jails, build more, I mean mega jails, use economies of scale to save money. We will eventually lock up the majority of criminals, there will be a deterrent, and the general public will not have to put up with them. If the government needs to tax me, do so, in the long run I won't be paying such high car and house insurance so I will be better off. Also, thieves that are released then have to pay back their prison costs, just as students have to pay their costs for their choice of career!
I was going home one night on the tube and was on the phone. As we approached a station I finished the call but as we stopped a man tried to grab my phone. Instinctively I grabbed hold of it and he ran off. Nobody said a thing, apart from one guy who said he could see that something was going to happen as the guy and his mate kept looking over at me and came down the train to be nearer my door. I'm amazed that people want to steal mobiles - it would have been cancelled as soon as I got home anyway. But I'm also amazed at how nobody came to see if I was ok or the guy didn't warn me - he said he didn't want to interrupt my conversation!! I would have welcomed it. In future though, if it ever happened again, they could have the phone, I'm not going to resist.
My girlfriend was mugged last week, they punched her before taking it. The police did their best but in an area where this happens once every five minutes (yes once every five minutes)they are powerless. My answer is for the people they do catch, often kids of 17 and younger, sue their parents. I know not a lot of people would agree with this but I think that if a parent had to take responsibility like this then they would think twice about doing it. Also, more bobbies on the beat wouldn't go a miss with greater powers to stop and search.
Tracey Dare, UK - At last someone who has the same train of thought as myself!
I cannot for the life of me work out why mobile phones have become a fashion accessory for children! It is a fad that parents encourage by buying the phones for their children.
A child does not need a mobile phone. If they are walking home from school and get into trouble, do what we used to do - go into the nearest shop, or house and ask for help! I think it is utterly ridiculous for children to be carrying mobile phones and obviously they are going to be targeted by thieves - they are "easy meat".
I think we, as parents, need to get our priorities straight and realise that our children do not "need" these items, and are in fact, at great risk of harm by owning one, than by getting by without one!
Tracey Dare, UK
Use the security code as well as the sim card this way the handset and sim card will be both locked meaning the phone and the sim card will be unusable
Phone mugging may well be a solution to the omnipresent, intrusive public conversations we are all forced to overhear on trains and other public places.
Hopefully this upward trend in mobile phone mugging will continue and banish these irritating devices to the yuppie past in which they so richly belong.
I hope that if ever David, USA and Ed, UK are mugged, punched and relieved of their valuables that they will be able to be as flippant about it as they are about these crimes.
The real criminals are the networks that refuse to bar stolen phones. They know that phone theft leads to more sales, which boosts their profits. If all the networks agreed to work with the police and bar handsets as soon as they are reported stolen then this type of crime could be eliminated, as stolen handsets would be worthless.
Wolfie, this has nothing to do with value or whatever material significance of the item stolen. What IS important is the impact a mugging has on people as you can read in many of the reactions listed. Just try and imagine what happens in the mind of a 14 year old when he or she is threatened with a knife or gun by another kid? Why do you think so many people complain about too few police in the streets? Feeling safe at home and outside is crucial to most people.
Insure the phone against theft or ask the phone companies to come up with immobilisers for the phone or some other security measures. It's hardly worth it to waste the time of the police force for something as insignificant as this.
Joseph, London UK
Does this increase not correlate with the increase in mobile phones? How accurate is this report?
I would like to support the message that Yvonne from the Netherlands has sent to you. The Dutch method of preventing mobile phone theft really works: stalking the phone that has been robbed. I am amazed that this method is not known and used by the British police! So much for Interpol communication.
What incentive do the police have to catch these 'petty' thieves? The police didn't care when my house was broken into as 'nothing much' was taken although the damage left behind was extensive. They didn't care when my car was stolen or when I was physically and verbally abused on a crowded commuter train. The reason? Too little chance of catching the perpetrators and too much paperwork to warrant the investigative effort. Cut paperwork, get the police back on the street and I'll guarantee we'll see less street crime.
It is in the mobile network's interests to install proper security on phones, as they end up paying part of the insurance bill for all the stolen phones. I was pick pocketed in Birmingham city centre about a year ago. Luckily my phone was insured, but that's £350 for my insurance company and they pass some of that cost on to the network.
Simple: give the thieves 20 years with no parole and you would be surprised how the theft rate falls.
I know of several people who have been mugged in London by gangs of youths who surround a person and then mug them of their phone. The police are very, very reluctant to take down details, so the estimated figures may be much higher as they are never recorded. These people know they can get away with it as the police are not interested in finding them.
I was in hospital with a suspected bleed in the brain and had to have a lumbar puncture the following day. The only way I had to contact my family was my mobile, as the hospital phone did not work. That night as I slept my mobile was stolen. I had no way to contact anyone. So on top of being terrified and seriously ill, I had to get hold of my network provider to cancel my number. I was then informed that despite the fact it was insured, because it had been upgraded (due to a poor quality phone) I had to buy a new hand set. So because I got admitted into hospital and some vile little person wanted to steal my phone, combined with the fact I got sold a poor quality phone I ended up out of pocket.
I think there is a great deal of over-reporting of mobile phone theft. Insurance on mobile phones requires a theft to be reported before a replacement is issued. When my daughter lost her phone she had to report it stolen in order to get a crime number to get it replaced. Based on my kids and their friends I think most of the phones are being lost rather than stolen.
Levels of mobile phone crime could be drastically reduced if manufacturers made sure that handsets would not work if stolen. Car crime is less than half its level a few years ago as a direct result of manufacturers taking a pro-active approach to the problem.
Maybe if kids didn't walk around with expensive mobile phones attached to their ears 24 hours a day they wouldn't get stolen quite so much! I'm not blaming the victims but you wouldn't walk around with your television in a city centre and expect to be safe all the time would you?
Unhappily the police will no longer stop and search certain ethnic groups who, as the new report will show, are disproportionately involved in inner city muggings. In certain areas of London the police have become, much as they have in US and Canadian inner cities, simply 'tourists in blue' hamstrung by political correctness from effective policing.
When the police start to blame the victim you know something is dreadfully wrong. If a person uses a mobile phone in public he is asking for a mugging!! What has happened to the UK police force that was the envy of the world?
Street crime may be on the rise but so are the opportunities.
In any city police advise tourists against being too obvious, carrying expensive cameras, conspicuous jewellery or flashing a Rolex because they make the owners easy targets for thieves.
Yet openly carrying a mobile phone is common in the UK, despite the fact that it's simple to steal, and to sell, and is in high demand.
Mobiles are a great invention but a little common sense in their use would do more than a thousand extra policemen to reduce their theft.
Kathy UK. So the way we use mobile phones means we are asking to have them stolen is it ? You must be a policewoman. Do you also suggest that rape victims should be more sensible in the way they dress or where they go so as not to encourage crime ? I hope not. Why should anybody going about their lawful business be the victim of any thug just because they carry a mobile phone ?
The police are spending
far too much time and effort
persecuting motorists instead
of targeting real serious
Sentences need to be much tougher. Life should mean that the offender dies in prison.
Custodial sentences should be served in full with time added for poor behaviour, not time reduced for good behaviour.
Neil G, UK
I had a butcher's knife held to my throat in a Sheffield takeaway one night, I filed a report with the police but nothing ever happened. British people have this idea that the US is dangerous but it is certainly not the case where I live. I certainly feel much safer here than I ever did in the UK which has a serious problem with thugs that flaunt the "law" knowing it has no teeth.
I was in an East Anglian coastal resort and had my debit card stolen by two youths. I flagged down a police car and was subsequently arrested for swearing when reporting the incident. The police told me I was probably targeted as I am from Australia. After this racist remark they failed to act on the mugging. I tried to make a complaint and was told not to bother as the success rate of complaints was less than 3%. The police failed miserably to apprehend the youths and I was left with a court fine. If it happens again I will react accordingly and not bother to report anything in case I am the victim of a very incompetent police force.
There are not enough police, that is the simple truth. Muggings are serious. But in order to fight this there needs to be a active role, walking the streets. More CCTV, its expensive. But the issue here is safety.
I was mugged at knife point just yards from my door. I then identified the mugger three times and the police did all they could to lock him up. Unfortunately the judge in his wisdom decided that my identification was unsafe and so acquitted this person. I do not think that it is the police that are to blame but instead it is the liberal laws that do not allow the police to get on with their job, keeping the dregs of society on the streets instead of where they belong.
Let's get one thing straight here - the police and the law in this country are a complete shambles. Crime will continue to get worse until this government starts getting tough on criminals. If that means our police force carrying and using firearms then so be it. Murderers, rapists, sex offenders, and armed robbers should simply be executed. Nobody needs them or cares for them and the prison bills would decrease. Anyone who disagrees with me and thinks I'm going OTT will soon change their mind if they ever become a victim of crime, like I have.
In response to Paul Kenyon's comment : Lets see if your 3rd Dan Karate helps when they hit you over the back of the head, hold a gun on you or all 10 in a gang jump on you at once. Get your head out of your karate films.
Anyone is welcome to attempt to mug me. I am a third Dan in Karate and would knock the offender's block off. The problem we have then is if we are both punished. The offender would probably be charged for attempted robbery and I would face GBH or manslaughter charges. This is where the law needs to be reviewed.
Reading is the nearest large town to me, and it is without doubt much safer than it was in the late 70s when I moved south from Yorkshire.
My first (and thankfully only) experience of street crime in the UK happened in Reading one foggy evening in November 1978 when two guys knocked me off my pushbike and hit me over the head with an iron bar. They then tried to rob me, but I resisted and they didn't succeed. At that time I was a very fit rugby player. I went to the police station to tell them where I'd left my assailants, and was told that they wouldn't even send anyone to look because they would "probably have recovered and run away"! By this time I was feeling a bit groggy myself, so the police agreed to take me to hospital to get stitched up on the understanding that I didn't report the incident and burden them with all the associated paperwork. Does this sound like an adequate defence force to you?
Arm all police and allow them to shoot gun-carrying thugs on sight. We have tolerated too much for too long. The general public are not allowed to defend themselves (remember Tony Martin) so we need someone to do it for us.
Of course crime is on the increase, because in this liberalistic age crime pays! The police are reluctant to investigate and lack resources and the judiciary is completely out of touch with reality. It is only a matter of time before vigilantes are on the streets.
The perception is that the police generally know who the culprits are. What holds them back is the courts protecting the bad people by insisting on the last possible shred of proof that they did it. Let's be brave, give the police free reign to deal with crime and the criminals. We would have a far safer nation and the few if any wrongful arrests would be a small price to pay for the huge number of innocent people who will have avoided having their lives ruined.
My husband was recently hit on the face and was left with broken glasses and a black eye. The muggers (all six of them) also trashed my car causing £1,900 worth of damage - it was almost a write-off. All this because he told them they should not be vandalising another car! So yes, in my experience it is. I can only be grateful that nothing worse happened, although I still have not got my car back after a month - difficulty with spare parts!
Roy, Walthamstow, London, UK
For a crime as violent as shooting an individual in the head for a mobile phone I would suggest bringing back capital punishment. It is disgraceful.
Street crime is certainly on the increase in the provisional towns and cities around the country. Any town on a Friday or Saturday night is a dangerous and violent place with youths running amok whilst the police and parents are powerless to stop it. This leads the youngsters to a feeling of invulnerability which in turn leads to more and more serious crime. We need to bring back far harsher punishment for what some might think as trivial misdemeanours such as spitting in public and dropping litter. Violence should be met with a violent punishment such as public lashings or mild electric shock treatment.
Muggings are on the rise and police advise us to hand over our property. This gives the very strong impression to the public - and to muggers - that the police can do nothing and neither should we. How long before we see vigilantes on the streets?
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