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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Tough penalties for mobile phone theft
Woman talking on mobile phone
The move is part of a crackdown on street crime
Mobile phone thieves could face a five-year prison sentence under new proposals unveiled by the government.

A Bill published by the Home Office on Friday will make it a criminal offence to reprogram stolen phones to create a new number so they can be used again.

The new tougher penalties aim to curb the growing menace of mobile phone related street crime.


Mobile phones are quickly turned into cash by thieves

Tim Godwin
DAC Met Police
Those found guilty of reprogramming could face jail terms of up to five years or unlimited fines.

The new Mobile Telephones (Reprogramming) Bill would also make it illegal to own or supply any of the equipment for reprogramming handsets.

The Bill has been welcomed by police and the phone industry.

Home Office minister John Denham said: "Mobile phone thefts have been a key factor in rising street crime - stolen mobiles are now involved in 50% of all robberies in London.

"The Bill being published today builds on the concerted action being taken across government to tackle street crime."

Violent attacks

Tim Godwin, a Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) of the Metropolitan Police, said: "Mobile phones are quickly turned into cash by thieves.

"This measure will reduce their value to a thief and therefore we strongly support and welcome it."

About 700,000 mobile phones were stolen last year, many in violent attacks.

Mobile phone operators have already agreed to exchange lists of the unique 15-digit handset identity numbers, known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, which are programmed on manufacture.

Thus, when a phone is reported stolen, its number can be recognised by other networks and they can refuse to connect it.

Disguise

However, this system alone does not make stolen handsets impossible to use.

Some thieves with specialist software can still change the handset identity number, or alter it to disguise its origin.

This makes it impossible for the manufacturers to trace the handsets, and they can then be sold on.

Phone security experts have for some time been calling for the changing of the IMEI number to be made illegal.

Jack Wraith, of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum, said the Bill would help reduce thefts.

"The activities of individuals involved in the reprogramming of stolen mobile devices has, for too long, allowed stolen mobile phones to be reprogrammed with impunity," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Every 45 seconds a mobile phone is stolen in Britain"
See also:

03 May 02 | Northern Ireland
Pregnant woman tells of 'terror ordeal'
03 May 02 | Sci/Tech
How to hack your mobile phone
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