MORE than 15,000 mobile phones, mostly expensive "smart" models, were stolen last year and gardai are now advising people to note down and retain a code number that could render the phone useless and cut down on the numbers of thefts.
The 15-digit "IMEI" code number is printed on the side of the box the phone is sold in and is also printed on another label inside the phone underneath the battery. It can also be called up on the phone by dialling *#06# and it will come up on the screen.
"IMEI" stands for international mobile equipment identity and if the phone is stolen and the owner has retained the number they can contact their mobile phone company who can use the code number to put a block on the handset so it cannot be used.
There is so much mobile phone theft in Ireland because the thieves sell them to unscrupulous shop owners who replace the SIM cards and sell them on. Very often they are also used to rack up massive amounts of charges in calls to foreign countries before the SIM is replaced and the phone resold.
The majority of thefts are in Dublin city centre where teams of muggers and pickpockets mainly target young women. In one theft at the end of 2011 a young pregnant woman was attacked and badly beaten when she tried to fend off the thief. She subsequently suffered a miscarriage due to her injuries.
Thieves, often drug addicts, steal and sell on the mobile phones that can cost up to €600 for only €50 to shops.
Figures available from the gardai suggest that 8,000 mobile phones were stolen in the first half of last year. However, the figure is probably much higher as many of the stolen phones are recorded as "lost" where there is no clear evidence of a theft.
Thieves specifically target people with the most expensive models.
The high level of thefts in Dublin city centre has prompted city councillors and gardai to launch a campaign tomorrow to highlight the issue and advise on how to counteract the problem by using the IMEI code number.
The Dublin City Joint Policing Committee will launch a leaflet with practical advice on how to reduce the risk of being robbed.
The chairman of the Joint Policing Committee, Councillor Gerry Breen, said: "Stories of stolen smart phones abound and the ordeal for victims is considerable. The theft often happens in broad daylight when people are walking along the street using a smart phone."
Chief Superintendent Michael O'Sullivan, from Pearse Street station, said: "Analysis of crime trends in 2012 indicates that a mere 15 per cent of mobile phone owners had their IMEI number available when reporting the theft incident. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight and improve awareness around the need for personal safety when using your mobile phone in public, the importance of recording your IMEI number and alerting your service provider to block the handset if lost or stolen."