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An Easy Way To Curb Smart-Phone Thieves, In Australia 234

Posted by timothy
from the thanks-a-lot-jerks-at-att dept.
First time accepted submitter xx_chris writes "Cell carriers can and do brick jail broken cell phones but they won't brick stolen cell phones. Except in Australia. The Australians apparently have been doing this for 10 years and it reduces violent crime since the thieves know they won't be able to sell the stolen phone. The article points out that cell carriers have a financial disincentive to do this since a stolen phone means another sale."
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An Easy Way To Curb Smart-Phone Thieves, In Australia

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  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @09:57PM (#38254538)

    sounds like game stop.

    • by houghi (78078)

      In Belgium you can still buy phones that are not locked in and you did not buy from a carrier. You have stores that sell insurance on your phone, so a stolen phone does not mean an extra sale.

      Still they do not use it very often for various reasons. It costs money to put a phone on the list and with the lifetime of a phone model it is not interesting enough. Also it is trivial to change the IMEI number.

      If I were a criminal in Australia, I would start an IMEI change chop. People assume your phones are not sto

      • by BitZtream (692029) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @03:49AM (#38255720)

        You have stores that sell insurance on your phone, so a stolen phone does not mean an extra sale.

        So the replacement phone comes from ... magic land? It doesn't get 'bought'?

        You're confused, the fact that by paying for insurance you're just prepaying for your next purchase doesn't mean a new phone isn't bought, it just means you don't think things through far enough to realize you're being swindled by buying insurance.

    • by cultiv8 (1660093)
      Hate to follow-up on myself, but it should be: 1) Brick cell phone if stolen 2) ? 3) Profit
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:06PM (#38254602)

    It will continue to work outside Australia. Phone theft still occurs here.

    • by JimboFBX (1097277) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:12PM (#38254622)

      yeah but nobody wants to buy a phone with Australian auto-correct.

      #TODO: insert funny English -> Australian translation

      • by swalve (1980968)
        Make sure it includes references to 220v being superior, American health care and how not to eat the cracker. That'll account for a good 25% of the dialect.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by clockt (882520)
      I occasionally browse through the pawn brokers shops, looking for old hand tools. A few years ago it was common to see 3 or 4 display cases filled with second-hand mobile phones stacked 3 deep. The Motorola Razr was popular then, and well represented. Over the course of about one week they all went away; I wandered in to one shop not far from the centre of town to be greeted with a desert of black, dusty velvet. Not a single phone left in the place.

      Two things occurred to me then: The government had done so

      • by green1 (322787) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:59PM (#38254822)

        > I'd known about the ability to block a digital phone since the change from analogue

        Question. What difference does it make if it's analog or digital? The fact is that the carrier has a way of identifying that phone on the network with a fair degree of reliability (otherwise they wouldn't be able to bill you for your calls) so regardless of if it's analog or digital they still have a way of blocking it.

        The ability to block cell phones didn't start with phones going digital. It started when phones no longer required you to tell the operator who you were before you made a call. Unfortunately the willingness to use such a feature is a completely different problem...

      • by swalve (1980968)
        It's probably too hard to get all the cell phone companies to cooperate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cyrano.mac (916276)
      No it won't. When a cell phone is bricked, it becomes useless. You confuse operator block with anti-theft block. The first can be undone, the second one can't. In Europe, the system of bricking a stolen phone has been abandoned many years ago. The reason is not commercial, it's purely technical. To trace a stolen phone, the IMEI number is used. But since the IMEI can be easily changed, you risk bricking someone else's phone. That happened years ago to some 6.000 phones which had the same IMEI, cloned f
      • by tibit (1762298)

        You can't undo programming a bunch of bytes in an EEPROM? I doubt that the phones used OTP memory for that. It'd probably take a minute with download cable and factory service software to undo the anti-theft block...

    • by deniable (76198)
      Yeah, because tourists / foreign travellers are the most likely people to buy a hot phone in a pub.
  • imei changer.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ltcdata (626981) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:17PM (#38254648)
    In argentina, there are a lot of "grey stores" that change the imei number of any cellphone in a few hours. If it can be done here...
  • Maybe I'm not up to date but last I checked Sprint does in fact blacklist the ESNs of stolen phones.

    I know that the only safe way to buy a used Sprint phone is to have the seller meet you at the Sprint store and lookup the ESN to make sure it isn't blacklisted.

    Verizon uses CDMA so they have the same situation (no sim card, just built-in ESN) so I don't know why they wouldn't offer the same service.

    IIRC, the CDMA carriers get batches of valid ESNs from their vendors... they won't allow any unknown ESN onto t

  • by slimjim8094 (941042) <slashdot3@@@justconnected...net> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @10:42PM (#38254750)

    I read this and went "this is news?" Then I read the supposition that nobody outside of Australia does this and I lost it. I vote this the stupidest article in many months.

    I thankfully have never had a phone stolen, but my mother and several of my friends have. The carriers range from AT&T to Verizon to T-mobile to Sprint to Boost mobile, to Orange and O2 in the UK. Universally, they called up the carrier and the IMEI number has been blacklisted, or the equivalent for Sprint/Verizon/CDMA phones. Banning the IMSI, which is tied to the phone, makes it useless since it is no longer more than an iPod Touch (or equivalent Android device). Those bans are effective within a country, since they share lists with each other. One of my friends has actually gotten her phone back when the guy went to the local T-Mobile store and tried to buy a prepaid SIM and it didn't work. The store called the police from the back room and kept the guy busy, and they came and picked him up. Apparently it's policy for them since it happens pretty frequently.

    This is all in the backwards US, with our relatively small GSM contingent. In other countries it's clearly much easier, since there's just a list.

    Finally, Wikipedia talks about this like it's old news. It's literally in the third sentence of the article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMEI#Blacklist_of_stolen_devices [wikipedia.org]

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I read this and went "this is news?" Then I read the supposition that nobody outside of Australia does this and I lost it. I vote this the stupidest article in many months.

      Amen! My lady tried to tell me about this article, and then I explained GSM vs. competing CDMA implementations and IMEIs to her and how at best you might steal a phone from ATT and use it on T-Mo or vice versa but probably not.

  • Considering the dominant carrier in Aus has been Telstra for the last 10 years in which time it has enjoyed a monopoly under - wait for it - former US CEO leadership then losing potential revenue from bricking stolen phones was simply an oversight.

    Anyone who lives here knows that Telstra would never knowingly pass up an opportunity to do business unethically.
  • by strack (1051390) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:02AM (#38255074)
    its because here in australia, we have politicians and regulatory agencies that arent balless little bitches on the take for the company. well, less so.
  • by Craig Ringer (302899) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:04AM (#38255084) Homepage Journal

    All this is is a list of blacklisted IMEIs that's shared between most (not all) carriers. The phones are still perfectly functional when used in other countries with compatible UMTS/GSM frequencies, and on carriers that don't use the IMEI blacklist.

    Some carriers do subscribe to the IMEI blacklist but take so long to update it that they might as well not. I'm looking at you, Vodafone.

    Not only can stolen phones be sold overseas, but it's pretty trivial to rewrite the IMEI on many phones. This is a disincentive to casual theft, but not much more.

    • by 91degrees (207121)
      Most mobile phone theft is casual theft though. Rewriting the IMEI requires a certain level of investment (a computer) and presumably at least basic computer competency. You need to know what to do, and where to get the software.

      Getting rid of the thieves without the skills or equipment does have a significant effect.
  • A number of years ago, we were all told that the phone companies needed to track our phone for the 911 service. That way they could find us if we called, but didn't know where we were. We were assured that it wasn't so the government could track our location. As of today, I have not heard about a single case where the tracking was used for the phone owners benefit, and every time I have called 911 from my cell phone, the person on the other end needed me to give them my location.

    It's simple. We alrea
    • They won't get closer than a rogue triangulation between cell towers to pinpoint your location. Enough to make you more suspect in a criminal case, but not enough to find you without expensive tracking equipment on site, a lot of time from the tracking people and still quite some luck (if you are moving). Compare that to the list of things the police usually won't put any effort in for if reported, and you'll know why this doesn't happen.
    • A number of years ago, we were all told that the phone companies needed to track our phone for the 911 service. That way they could find us if we called, but didn't know where we were. We were assured that it wasn't so the government could track our location. As of today, I have not heard about a single case where the tracking was used for the phone owners benefit, and every time I have called 911 from my cell phone, the person on the other end needed me to give them my location.

      I don't know about you, but every time I've called 911 from a land line, the operator has asked me to tell them my location, too. Redundancy is important, a database error or a SNAFU with the GPS chip can't be risked when it comes to true emergencies. You don't want the ambulance to show up across town from your gunshot wound because of your new neighbor Robert'); DROP TABLE Residences;.

      So why then have it, if they're just going to ask anyhow? Because sometimes they can't ask, consider a hypothetical per

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        It would be far more efficient for them to verify the address than to have you try and give it to them. Particularly in cases where the caller doesn't know the specific address.

        If their claim that the tracking is for 911 is true, then cell phone theft should be trivial for the police to act on.
        • If their claim that the tracking is for 911 is true, then cell phone theft should be trivial for the police to act on.

          While I'm not wholly unsympathetic to this viewpoint, no, not really.

          The thing you've got to consider is that most police departments are in fact vastly understaffed for their workloads. Or at least for their potential workloads.

          Let us assume that your nominal PD has the man power to follow up on a tip from the Cell company (And that the laws concerning warrants etc permit them to Stake definitive action on those tips.)

          The cell provider advises them that stolen phone W is active on the network, an

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BitZtream (692029)

      As of today, I have not heard about a single case where the tracking was used for the phone owners benefit, and every time I have called 911 from my cell phone, the person on the other end needed me to give them my location.

      Sigh, you're confusing procedure and reality.

      I hit a deer about 3 weeks ago in a rural area of North Carolina at about 1am, hilly area with bad reception. Took 3 911 calls just to get the conversation going. When finally connected you are asked your location (even when you're at home) as confirmation to make sure they don't blindly send someone to the wrong side of town while you die. The same thing happens at any major medical procedure for instance, you'll be asked several times what procedure you're h

  • Uhh, Japan? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kagetsuki (1620613) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @01:54AM (#38255486)

    In Japan as soon as you contact the service provider they remotely lock the phone, start tracking it, and if you've reported it stolen they report its position to the police.

  • by Builder (103701) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @04:27AM (#38255842)

    This is fine if you're an island thousands of miles from other large population centers. The problem with Europe is that you're never more than a few hours drive from the next country. So even if every carrier in the UK agreed to block stolen phones, I can be in France within 120 minutes of leaving my house and I can sell them there.

    This would need to be Europe wide to have any effect here.

    • This is fine if you're an island thousands of miles from other large population centers. The problem with Europe is that you're never more than a few hours drive from the next country. So even if every carrier in the UK agreed to block stolen phones, I can be in France within 120 minutes of leaving my house and I can sell them there.

      This would need to be Europe wide to have any effect here.

      Actually there is an world wide database (http://www.gsmworld.com/our-work/programmes-and-initiatives/fraud-and-security/imei_database.htm) with an blacklist. But as long as there are carriers in neighbourging countries, who would rather sell airtime than block their customers, its is not going to be effective.

  • Grain of salt (Score:3, Informative)

    by rust627 (1072296) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @05:40AM (#38256088)

    Yes the Australian carriers, can disable phone, however, the phone i had stolen, and the 2 that have been stolen from my son, well we were told that although they can disable the phone , they normally don't and probably won't. All they normally do is disable the SIM. Yes they have had the technology to do this for 10 years, no in real terms they do not do it.

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