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Government’s new plan to end growing cell phone theft

Marketplace Staff Apr 10, 2012

David Brancaccio: Here’s a dramatic number: The New York Daily News calculates that in New York, seven electronic gizmos are stolen every hour. Many of those are expensive cell phones. There’s word today the federal government is moving to render those stolen cell phones a lot less valuable. The plan is to make phone companies keep a registry of specific phones as opposed to phone numbers. New York Senator Charles Schumer says this will make a cell phone as worthless as an empty wallet.

Ramon Llamas is an analyst at IDC. Good morning.

Llamas: Good morning, David.

Brancaccio: Now how does this work? Some of the phone carriers — for instance, Verizon — they already have a unique number associated with the phone, they were already tracking, for instance.

Llamas: Exactly. What they do is that they track every single phone that’s on their network. So that if suddenly there’s some crazy behavior on the phone, they can track that. So if the user suddenly realizes, “hey, I don’t have my phone, it could be used for something else”, they can call Verizon and say “is anything going on with my phone?”

Brancaccio: But some of the other phone carriers don’t quite do that, especially the networks that use the types of phones that you have to put the little chip inside of, the SIM card.

Llamas: And that is part of the problem. So by finding a phone that you can just slide your SIM into, that saves you a ton of money and so what carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile are doing is trying to find a system that not only protects your SIM card but also protects that device and says, as soon as we find out that particular model is lost or stolen, we can shut that down immediately.

Brancaccio: It’s interesting that it took the federal government to wrangle the phone companies to set up this common registry.

Llamas: This was an outcry from local police departments who get numerous reports saying “my cell phone was stolen.” There’s a lot of money, there’s a lot of time, there’s a lot of energy involved to make sure that mobile phone theft does not become incredibly rampant.

Brancaccio: Ramon Llamas, IDC, thank you very much for this.

Llamas: Thank you Dave, always a pleasure.

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