Cops will now have to trace your stolen mobile phone

Have you lost your mobile phone? Don’t just block your SIM but rush to the nearest police station and lodge an FIR as it is compulsory for cops to not only lodge a complaint but also trace and recover it.

Shwetank Shekhar Dubey/ Zee Research Group

Have you lost your mobile phone? Don’t just block your SIM but rush to the nearest police station and lodge an FIR as it is compulsory for cops to not only lodge a complaint but also trace and recover it. Considering the security threat that stolen mobile phones can pose, an advisory was issued by the Centre to states and union territories on February 5, 2014 for compulsory registration of FIR under Section 154 of CrPC.

Till recent, cops were reluctant to lodge FIRs regarding stolen mobile phones. However, with the National Telecom Policy establishing a National Mobile Property Registry for addressing security, theft and other concerns, including reprogramming of mobile handsets, the numbers of cases registered have seen a sharp increase. In Delhi alone, the number of mobile theft cases registered increased from 1123 in 2011 to a whopping 7159 till June 30, 2014.

Talking to Zee Research Group (ZRG), Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said, “We treat stealth of mobile phones like any other criminal case and an FIR is registered. The investigating officer makes all efforts to trace the stolen phone. Most of the cases have been solved by our teams.”
Ironically, even though the number of mobile phones has reached 904.5 million with 74% of the population owning a handset, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not collect data on mobile phone theft separately. In the consolidated data stated in NCRB’s Crime in India report, 19,377 cases of electronic components stolen were registered across the country last year, out of which just 6,014 were recovered.

According to law, investigating officers have to track and recover stolen mobile phones by contacting the service providers, ascertaining user details of the number on which the handset is activated after the theft and visiting the address mentioned in the subscriber form. Cops have to get the IMEI number (the 15-digit identification number) of the stolen phones from the service provider in order to trace them.

The Zonal Integrated Police Network (ZIPNET) has also been tasked with providing IMEI numbers of lost/stolen mobile handsets.

Most of the stolen phones find their way in the grey market where retailers offer them to prospective customers at a discounted price. While the retailers manage to change all other traces of a phone being stolen, they can never tamper with the IMEI. The government has issued various notices advising people to check the list of stolen mobile handsets on the ZIPNET before purchasing a pre-owned mobile phone.
Telecom operators have been asked by the government not to register mobile phones with incomplete IMEI numbers. A ban on import of mobile handsets with IMEI defects has also been banned by the commerce and industries ministry.

Moreover, law enforcement agencies — police, prosecution and judiciary — and the public at large have been asked to be aware of the IT Act. Possession of a stolen mobile phone is a cognizable offence for which a person can be booked under the Information Technology Act.
The government has also advised that agencies like NASSCOM, NTRO, CERT-In, etc can be employed to train law enforcement agencies to preventing and combating crime that may result due to stolen mobile phones.

Safety lies in your hands

India ranks third among the top countries for smartphone users with an estimated 117 million subscribers, behind only China and the US as per the latest ‘Internet trends 2014’ report by Mary Meeker, partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).

Considering the rising number of mobile theft cases, various IT firms have come up with various apps that can help users either recover mobile phones or make them unusable in case the SIM card is changed. Apps like F-Secure, Avast, Cerberus, iHound, GadgetTrak, Prey, Snuko, etc not only lock the phone but even send details to the owners about the location, number being used, and other data so that it can be traced. iPhone and Windows Phones have built in features which allow owners to remotely erase sensitive data on their phones lest they fall into the wrong hands.

According to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) the number of users accessing the web on their mobile handsets in India has reached 185 million. In December 2013, the number of mobile internet users stood at 130 million as against a user base of 110 million in October 2013. There are many web-based applications that can send alarm signals via GPS in case a mobile phone is stolen.

Technology, however, is not limited to just smartphones as even the basic phones have a built-in security feature with which SIM cannot be changed unless a PIN is fed in.

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