When Apple’s ballyhooed iPhone 5 went on sale last month, New York City police encouraged buyers to register their phone’s serial numbers with the department. That came just months after a 26-year-old chef at the Museum of Modern Art was killed for his iPhone while heading home to the Bronx.
In St. Louis, city leaders proposed an ambitious ordinance requiring anyone who resells cell phones to obtain a secondhand dealers license. Resellers also would need to record the phone’s identity number and collect detailed information including the seller’s names, addresses, a copy of their driver’s licenses — even their thumbprints.
“It will take a national solution to make this problem go away,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said of the phone thefts.
Though some experts put annual cell phone losses in the billions of dollars, there is no precise figure on how many devices are stolen each year.
However, the problem has become so visible that it has caught the attention of lawmakers and regulators seeking to take the profit out of cell phone theft.
In April, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that the major U.S. cell phone carriers and the Federal Communications Commission have agreed to set up a national database to track reported stolen phones. It is scheduled to launch in late 2013.
Schumer also introduced a bill called the Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act, which proposes a five-year prison sentence for tampering with the ID numbers of a stolen cell phone. The bill is supported by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), a Washington, D.C. advocacy group.
In addition, CTIA officials said carriers are expected to launch individual databases later this month to permanently disable a cell phone reported stolen. The initiative is similar to a successful decade-old strategy in Australia.