Smartphones have brought a lot of convenience for the consumers and fueled the growth of technology markets. But, they have also increased criminal activities. No, I’m not talking about sophisticated cybercrimes. I’m talking about violent crimes including hijacking, robbery and theft of mobile devices.
According to an investigation by IDG News Service, smartphones are driving violent crimes across U.S. As part of the investigation, IDG collected data on serious crimes in San Francisco from November to April. The data revealed that on some days, the only serious crimes reported in the Police log were cellphone thefts. And half of these incidents involved physical assault or life threatening incidents.
An interactive map of such crimes in San Francisco can be viewed here.
The reasons behind the increase in such crimes include the quick salability of cellphones or tablets for a couple of hundred dollars, lack of awareness about how stolen devices can be tracked, and an absence of consensus on a permanent deactivation of stolen devices.
Until recently, measures to stop someone from using a stolen cellphone or tablet were limited. Lately, carriers in the U.S. have built a database of stolen handsets. The database uses a handset’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number to track stolen devices and block it upon network access.
The IMEI number of a handset is a permanent identity of a mobile device, which don’t change when someone changes the SIM card. Hence, a handset can be tracked separate from a mobile number.
Once a user notifies the carrier about a stolen handset, the carrier enters the IMEI number of the handset into the ‘stolen’ database, and shares it with other carrier. Hence, it is theoretically impossible for a stolen handset to be re-activated in the U.S.
However, this system is not invincible. If you’re familiar with the technology then you can always change the IMEI number of a handset. Plus, consumers have to report a stolen handset, with its IMEI, first.
Some people are also advocating for a permanent ‘kill switch’ for handsets that can be activated remotely. Among them is George GascA3n, a San Francisco’s district attorney. He believes that by removing the marketability of stolen products, we can eliminate the problem. “What we need is a technical solution, we need a kill switch that when a phone gets reported stolen the manufacturer or the carrier or a combination of both are going to render that phone inoperable anywhere,” he said.
But, such a kill switch will inevitably wash off any chance to get the device back in future. Plus, there are other security concerns too.
Some advise, to reduce such crimes consumer awareness is the key. Cellphone users shouldn’t be engrossed into their devices’ screen and should heighten their senses about their surroundings when talking on the phone.