Smartphones breed smarter crooks

Monday, 6 January 2014 - 9:11am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Robbers erase original IMEI and replace it with another to escape detection.

Mobile thieves are moving with the times. They have found a technique to kill the memory of a cell phone and erase the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) that help police track down stolen mobile handset. Every mobile handset has a unique IMEI.

Aided by local mobile dealers, intrepid thieves are wiping out a stolen handset’s memory and its 15-digit IMEI, replacing it with the IMEI of a low-budget or China-made handset, making it impossible for the authorities to track down the stolen handset.

Their tool of choice: a software called ‘flash programming’. This software is used to wipe out the mobile memory known to the device and its IMEI number. For the thieves, the cost of the ‘new phone’, that cannot be tracked, comes to around Rs1,000. That and Rs100 for overwriting the device memory.

A police officer said that till now gangs would steal mobile phones and keep them switched off for at least six months before reselling them. Or, they would sell them to local mobile phone shops that would use the stolen phone’s spare parts to repair similar models.

Talking to dna, cyber expert, Vicky Shah said, “There has always been a grey area when it comes to tracking a stolen or lost mobile phone with the help of the IMEI number because there isn’t a central database system that helps the authorities track the phone if it is sold in another state. The authorities’ tracking system only works within the state.”

Shivaji Dhumal, senior inspector of Kurla government railway police (GRP), said that in places like Manish Market and several shops in Fort area in South Mumbai, people use the software to wipe out the IMEI number of the phone and replace it with the new one.

Police are in touch with cyber experts to help them find a solution to the existing problem.

Dhumal said that people should take care of their mobile handsets, especially while travelling in trains. “In 2013, in the jurisdiction of the Kurla railway police alone, there are 3,000 stolen phones that have not been traced yet.”

Shah said that there are other parameters for tracing smartphones, apart from the IMEI number. “Every phone whether it is an Android, Windows or IOS phone has its own unique identity, which can be tracked even if the IMEI number has been tampered with. We are working in this regard and will help the authorities if need be.”

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