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

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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  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:4, Informative)

    by fryjs ( 1456943 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @11:02PM (#38254568) Homepage
    It's my understanding that they don't really brick the phones, all of the networks just block the phones by IMEI number based on a common database.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 03, 2011 @11:06PM (#38254602)

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

  • imei changer.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ltcdata ( 626981 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @11:17PM (#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...
  • by slimjim8094 ( 941042 ) <> on Saturday December 03, 2011 @11:42PM (#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. []

  • by cyrano.mac ( 916276 ) on Saturday December 03, 2011 @11:43PM (#38254754)
    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 from a Danish phone. When the Danish phone got stolen, the Danish operator bricked it, resulting in 6.000 Spanish phones no longer operating. And since you can't undo it, they had to be replaced. The one responsible for cloning 6.000 phones with identical IMEI numbers was a Dutch phone trader. Anyways, there is no problem with cell phone theft over here, except people declaring their lost or broken phone stolen, just to get insurance to pay for it...
  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @12:41AM (#38255000)

    they brick it with the IMEI number of the phone (akin to the mac address of an ethernet card)

  • by Craig Ringer ( 302899 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @01:04AM (#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.

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @01:08AM (#38255106)

    This has been happening for YEARS and you notice now? I think it is, plain and simply, a bug in Slashdot. It even happened to me once (posted in one thread, and comment appeared in unrelated thread)

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Malvineous ( 1459757 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @01:33AM (#38255208)
    I'm not sure how it works in other countries, but in Australia you generally don't buy a phone. You buy a plan from a telco, and the plan comes with a free phone. So a stolen phone means the owner will sign up for a new plan and get a new phone, which you, the telco, have to pay for. So as a telco, if you can keep someone on the same plan with the same phone for as long as possible, you save money.

    Hence reducing theft means Aussie telcos can spend less on buying phones from Apple or whoever.
  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dutchwhizzman ( 817898 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @02:00AM (#38255274)
    because both the SIM and IMEI of the phone itself get logged. If the police or a secret service of some sort later starts looking for you, they will search for either one. Also, phone taps are usually issued on the person and all their known IMEI, SIM and landline calls. This means that in case of a tap, you'll want a phone that can't be associated to you in any way.
  • They do not brick (Score:3, Informative)

    by cheekyboy ( 598084 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @04:29AM (#38255668) Homepage Journal

    I found a phone, and it wasnt bricked. I just made sure to pull out the orig SIM, and go 100% wifi, no cell networks at all.

    Eventually after a month, even after the phone was 'unlocked' to allow other cariiers, they barred/blocked the phone based on IMEI number alone.

    It wasnt bricked, just 'barred', and not usable, except for wifi.

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @04:41AM (#38255698) Homepage

    So if you buy a plan from a telco and your phone gets stolen after a few weeks, you can just cancel the plan immediately at no charge and buy a new plan?
    Somehow this seems unlikely.
    In the Netherlands you can also buy a plan with a free phone, but the plan lasts one or two years and cannot be cancelled. The telco's pay for the phone simply by hiking up the price of the plan. I think this is pretty much how "free phone" plans work all over the world.

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

  • Re:They do not brick (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @05:13AM (#38255794)

    You know what you're supposed to do when you find a phone, right?

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2011 @05:55AM (#38255928)

    I think the only viable excuses American/Canadian cell carriers have (EU and AU will block stolen phones) for not doing this is that Americans are too stupid to.

    Truth, go back to the TDMA and CDMA days before GSM. When someone reports the device stolen, the device is deactivated, but because the cell phone is still in the system, the thief could always call back in and reactivate it if they know the customers information (which in the US is the last four digits of the SSN) most of which can be found if they also stole their wallet. In those days the device would still work up until it was power cycled.

    Now with GSM, the "ESN" is the sim card, not the IMEI. When a phone is reported as stolen, they send a kill signal to the sim card which "burns it", destroying the subscribers personal information stored on it. It does nothing to the device.

    To blacklist a GSM device, the carriers don't have the option to do this except at the switch level, which means that every switch has to deny if the IMEI is in the central blacklist, making things more complicated. It also has one other problem which is more unique to Americans than others... stolen or inactive devices must still be able to call 911, which means they have to change how the switch works, eg "if 911 called, allow, else check blacklist"

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @06:24AM (#38256032) Homepage

    The plan does not come with a free phone. The plan comes with a phone that you make payments on built into the connection payments contract. After you phone is stolen you must continue to make payments and it is up to you to organise a replacement phone. []. If you choose to buy a second hand replacement phone then you should go here [] to make sure it is not stolen. Of course you can pay extra, for premium care ie handset insurance policy and they will replace a stolen phone.

    Note that is an internationally registered numbered so phones are bricked in all countries that co-operate.

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:4, Informative)

    by shitzu ( 931108 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @06:32AM (#38256066)

    Lots of talk about bricking. They don't brick them. They blacklist the IMEI. When a phone wih a blacklisted IMEI tries to connect to the network the service is denied. Until you realize that you can go to a basement workshop and bave the IMEI changed for 5â....

  • Grain of salt (Score:3, Informative)

    by rust627 ( 1072296 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @06:40AM (#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.

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:5, Informative)

    by shitzu ( 931108 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @06:47AM (#38256106)

    The electronics are not shot. The article is misleading. They do not brick it. They blacklist the IMEI and that does not allow the phone to make calls in a given network. The phone works fine. That is done in a lot of countries - for example in mine. There are two ways around this - basement phone repair workshops that change the IMEI for a few bucks (model specific, can't be done with all phones) or exporting the stolen device. In my country the border is always less than 250km away, Australia is a bit more isolated so this might be a little more difficult there. Anyway - the phone isn't bricked, they do not have some magical killswitch, electronics are not shot.

  • Re:Disincentive? (Score:5, Informative)

    by marky_boi ( 1427845 ) on Sunday December 04, 2011 @09:29AM (#38256566)

    what tripe!!! all the above is done in AU.
    A blocked IMEI can still call 112 the international emergency number as well as 000 the local equiv of 911.
    Each carrier keeps a local copy of the stolen register and updates regularly and the phone IMEI is then blocked ***at registration*** to the network not on a per call basis if it is used at all.
    One thing Au has over the US is only 3 networks and not a patchwork of carriers, this makes things rather easier.
    The AU example if I remember correctly was a Govt. mandated requirement, ie. do yourselves or we will make it law.....

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller