A website has been launched to help tackle the problem of worldwide mobile phone theft.
Industry insiders estimate that one in 10 mobile users worldwide have had their phones stolen at some point, with many of the units ending up in the hands of unsuspecting new owners re-equipped with a new SIM card.
Willie Potgeiter, a South African entrepreneur based in Port Elizabeth, and a victim of such a theft, has launched the Celltrace.com website which will track phone ownership using the unique identification number in each handset.
The website is an attempt to build an integrated database of information about individual phones and their owners. According to Potgeiter, few phone companies currently share information about lost or stolen devices, and this needs to change.
"The main problem worldwide with mobile theft is the large number of networks," said Potgeiter. "Once a phone has been stolen, and perhaps blocked by the original network, it is an easy matter for the thief to go to another network. With GSM phones there are some more controls available, but around the world this is not always the case. There is a proliferation of alternative networks."
The trade in stolen phones could be costing consumers millions each year, as well as tying up valuable police resources, according to Potgeiter, who has himself funded the building of the website.
Identity numbers are given to every phone on manufacture, often located under the battery. These are called International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) serial numbers and are present even if the SIM card is changed.
"On some phones you can get the IMEI number on the screen by typing *#06#. It is vital that you record this number and write it somewhere safe before your phone is stolen," he said.
Everyone involved in the industry and law enforcement agencies should have access to these identity tag databases, he added. This would enable service providers to quickly block IMEI codes so that stolen handsets cannot be used on alternative networks, and also to help with the return of missing phones to owners.
Progress is being made, said Potgeiter. "We are slowly but surely getting networks to link into the system. We are already getting quite a lot of support, but we need to get the word out further. At least we are trying to save consumers a bit of money. It's the public that usually end up paying for theft."
In the UK, Orange and Vodafone have been approached and are considering using the security system.
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