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Phones

Mobile Guru: Is that a stolen mobile phone you have?

Months have passed since mobile phone blocking came into effect but what impact has it had on theft?

Morse code on mobile phones
Months have passed since mobile phone blocking came into effect but what impact has it had on theft?

Mobile phones are hot commodities that can be easily sold on the black market. However, the black market for these sorts of devices probably isn't going to be bumping into a bloke in a black trenchcoat full of phones asking, "Wanna buy a mobile? It's more likely to be through online auction site, such as eBay (which I should point has a policy forbidding the sale of stolen goods). One still has to wonder to what extent this is enforced.

Every mobile handset has an electronic serial number programmed into it when it is manufactured. This identifier is know as an IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number and you can find the 15-digit number of GSM phones by entering *#06# into the keypad of your handset.

In September 2003, mobile phone providers in Australia banded together in an attempt to curb mobile theft by blocking handsets (through the IMEI number) reported as lost or stolen from accessing their networks.

According to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (ATMA), nearly 165,000 mobiles have been blocked in the nine months since the program started. Previously, when ATMA reported that 50,000 handsets had been blocked figures suggested theft accounted for 71 per cent of these while 29 per cent had been lost.

Personally, I've found myself in both these categories. I've lost my mobile phone countless times, but thankfully it always manages to show up under a pair of jeans in the laundry basket or in the jacket I left at the local drinking establishment I patronised the previous night - bless those honest people in the lost and found department. However, in the past I have had a mobile phone stolen and immediately reported it to the phone company to put a bar on calls. ATMA also suggests you contact the police.

Even if your phone is stolen and you go through the necessary reporting steps to block the handset from networks in Australia it is possible for theives to electronically alter an IMEI number using software from the Web and a data cable connecting PCs to phones.

However, to help strengthen the blocking scheme, legislation before Parliament proposes to make modifying IMEI numbers a crime punishable by up two years imprisonment. The Bill also deals with offences related to the copying of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card data and threats and hoaxes made using a telecommunications service.

Warney, er, warning: using a carriage service (eg. SMS) to menace, harass or cause offence could bring about penalties of up to 3 years imprisonment.

If you are considering buying a second hand mobile phone, ensure you ask for the IMEI number and check the status of the mobile phone here.

The last thing you want after forking out big bucks is a handset on which you can only play Snake.

What impact do you think mobile phone blocking has on theft? Have your say below.

Whatever you question, comment or concern, send it along to cnet@cnet.com.au. If you'd just like to know more about a feature or need some advice, we'll offer our insight into the mobile world every week.