Gardai seek 'kill switch' to tackle mobile phone thefts
GARDAI are to push for the introduction of a "kill switch", which would immediately disable mobile phones that have been stolen.
The move follows a worrying rise in the number of phones reported stolen over the past six months and is being made in tandem with a concerted campaign against the thieves.
But despite the rise, there has been a huge increase in the recovery of stolen or lost handsets. Gardai are satisfied that Eastern European gangs are responsible for a significant proportion of the thefts with the others being carried out by opportunistic thieves.
Many of the stolen handsets are being quickly shipped overseas, where they can be sold off without fear of being detected as stolen property.
Senior garda officers are in talks with service providers to examine ways in which the rise in thefts can be curbed.
Officers have now decided to support a call by the authorities in the UK and the United States for an industry standard "kill switch", which would be effective in disabling phones in various jurisdictions.
At the moment, the phones can be disabled here if the victims know their IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) number, which is unique to each handset.
But this does not apply if the phones are being sold overseas.
Gardai have advised owners to keep a copy of the 15-digit code, which is usually found printed inside the battery compartment of the phone but can be also displayed on-screen on most phones by entering *#06#.
If these are known, the phones can be disabled when stolen. However, there is no collaboration between the industry here and overseas and the "kill switch" is being considered to overcome that.
The authorities in the UK have written to the heads of Apple, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Microsoft, BlackBerry and Sony, while city hall officials in New York are trying to broker transatlantic collaboration.
Gardai are stepping up their efforts for a more co-ordinated approach after the latest crime figures showed that the number of phones reported lost or stolen during the second quarter of this year increased to 6,949, a rise of 14pc on the corresponding figure for last year.
However, a number of targeted garda operations have led to the recovery of 857 mobile phones between January and the end of June. This is an increase of 47pc on the corresponding figure of 583 for 2012.
Some of the seizures came about through monitoring a website where stolen phones were being offered for sale.
Gardai identified a Romanian gang as being behind the scam and swoops on 10 addresses in Tallaght and one in a Dublin city-centre premises resulted in the seizure of 23 phones, including IP5s and Galaxy S4s.
Another search at an apartment on the southside of the city resulted in the seizure of 47 mobile phones as well as four laptops and several watches.