Reprogramming a mobile phone could result in five years in prison under a new law being designed by the Home Office to clamp down on mobile-phone crime.
The government is expected to unveil the new measure on Friday, after which a bill on mobile phone reprogramming will be published in the House of Lords.
The emergency legislation, dubbed the Mobile Phone (Reprogramming) Bill, will make it an offence to reprogram a mobile phone by putting a new identity number on a stolen handset.
Thieves with specialist software have been able to change the handset identity number of stolen phones to disguise their origin, effectively making them reusable.
Such software makes it impossible for the manufacturers to trace the handsets. Phones are sent abroad for reprogramming and then resold for between £10 and £60.
Security experts have for some time been calling for the change of the International Mobile Equiipment Identification (IMEI) number to be made illegal.
Jack Wraith, executive secretary of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum, said: "We see this as another piece of the crime prevention jigsaw and fully support this type of initiative."
More than 700,000 handsets were stolen in England and Wales last year, many in violent muggings.
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