Mobile networks barring phones stolen in London riots

Mobile phone networks have confirmed they will bar phones looted during riots in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read

Mobile phones stolen in London, Birmingham and Manchester will be blocked in a matter of hours. Phone retailers and networks have confirmed they will block stolen phones, as normal, so we recommend you look carefully at the deal if you're considering buying a second-hand phone or any kind of gadget in the wake of the riots.

Electronics stores have been hit hard as looters grab up expensive gadgets to kit out their home or sell on. TVs and other gadgets could be tough to track down, but phones have to connect to the phone network and can easily be blocked and even traced.

Once the phone and electronics shops have worked out what stock is missing, they'll log the IMEI numbers of stolen phones. Each network has an Equipment Identity Register (EIR), a blacklist of stolen phones that are blocked by that network.

The phone will be blocked by the network within 24 hours, and blocked across all networks within 48 hours. Networks share their EIR blacklists with the Central EIR, ensuring that a stolen phone is blocked on all networks, regardless of which SIM card is put in it.

Pay as you go SIM cards can be blocked but not traced, while contract SIMs put in a stolen phone can be traced. An IMEI number can be changed but requires special tools and is a criminal offence -- and the phone won't work in the UK anyway.

All this means it's probably not the best time to buy a second-hand phone or TV. As always, beware of deals that look good to be true, pay attention to eBay feedback and stick to reputable shops such as Cash Converters that record ID of the seller when buying second-hand goods. And look out for priceless deals like 40 iPhones being sold through Craigslist...

It's been a tough week for the smart phone: BlackBerry phones were blamed by Tottenham MP David Lammy for co-ordinating looting. Lammy called for the BlackBerry Messenger service, popular among teenagers, to be shut off in London during the unrest. A similar rumour spread quickly on Twitter, gaining a surprising amount of support from onlookers -- despite it being a tactic worthy of the recently overthrown dictatorship in Egypt.

BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion has stated it will comply with authorities over the riots, provoking hackers to insert a threatening message on the BlackBerry blog. But all networks are required by law to assist if police request access to messages that relate to a crime, and BlackBerry doesn't deserve singling out for helping to catch the criminals who brought fear and destruction to the streets of London, Birmingham and Manchester.   

Have you seen any suspicious deals since the looting began this weekend -- or are you planning to look for a bargain in the next few weeks? If you suspect someone of attempting to pass on stolen goods, you can report crime and provide information anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.