Stolen cellphone databases switched on in US

The four major carriers plan to offer a joint database by late 2013

U.S. cellphone carriers took a major step on Wednesday toward curbing the rising number of smartphone thefts with the introduction of databases that will block stolen phones from being used on domestic networks.

The initiative got its start earlier this year when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and police chiefs from major cities asked the cellular carriers for assistance in battling the surging number of smartphone thefts. In New York, more than 40 percent of all robberies involve cellphones and in Washington, D.C., cellphone thefts accounted for 38 percent of all robberies in 2011.

With the introduction of the database, carriers will be able to block stolen handsets from being used on their networks. Until now, such blocking had targeted the SIM card, so unauthorized calls could not be made on stolen phones, but putting in a new SIM card meant the phone could still be used. That meant a stolen phone could be sold on the second-hand market.

The new database blocks the IMEI number, a unique identification number in the cellphone akin to a VIN (vehicle identification number) in a car. The ID number remains with the cellphone no matter what SIM card is used.

"The goal is to not only protect the consumer by cancelling the service, but by ultimately protecting the consumer by drying up the after market for stolen phones," said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA, a wireless industry trade association that has coordinated efforts to introduce the database.

As of Wednesday, carriers AT&T and T-Mobile will offer a joint database, said Guttman-McCabe. The two carriers use the same basic network technology so handsets from one can be easily used on the other. Verizon and Sprint, which use a different network technology, will offer their own databases, he said.

By the end of November next year, the four carriers will combine their databases so that the vast majority of U.S. cellphone users will be covered. Smaller carriers like Nex-Tech and Cellcom are also getting on board the database. There are also plans to link it with an international database maintained by the GSM Association to stop stolen phones being shipped overseas and used on foreign networks.

With the introduction of the database, consumers are being asked to do more to safeguard their phones and data.

"Consumers also play a key role in protecting their information and preventing smartphone theft," the organization said in a statement. "By using passwords or PINs, as well as remote wiping capabilities, consumers can help to dry up the aftermarket for stolen devices."

A lock code on the home screen can make it difficult for thieves to get into menus and reset the phone. The inability to get past a lock screen also makes it difficult for an unsophisticated criminal to sell the phone on the after market.

Consumers will start to see this information pushed from carriers by the end of this year.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags sprinttelecommunicationCarriersat&tlegalctiaT-Mobile USAVerizon WirelessCriminal

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

D-Link TAIPAN AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Modem Router (DSL-4320L)

Learn more >

ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q – Reign beyond virtual world

Learn more >

Xiro Drone Xplorer V -3 Axis Gimbal & 1080p Full HD 14MP Camera

Learn more >

Crucial® BX200 SATA 2.5” 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive

Learn more >

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Kit

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things


Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

ASUS VivoPC VM62 - Incredibly Powerful, Unbelievably Small

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Best Deals on Good Gear Guide

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?