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FCC Asks Major Wireless Carriers to Build Stolen Mobile Database

AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon have agreed to a deal with the FCC to build and maintain a database for information on stolen mobile phones so these devices can be blocked from service.

Mobile device theft has grown to such problem in North America that an affiliation of police chiefs from 70 major cities in the U.S. and Canada published a document calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to organize and require telecom companies to implement methods for disabling stolen devices. Washington D.C. reported mobile phone thefts increased 54 percent from 2007 to 2011 while in New York City over 21,000 mobile device thefts were reported in the first ten months of 2011.

The FCC responded to the police chiefs by organizing the major wireless carriers in North America to build databases with information on mobile devices that have been reported stolen to the carrier. Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint Nextel and AT&T reached an agreement with the FCC to build and maintain such a database where they will keep track of the unique serial numbers for mobile devices reported stolen so these devices can be blocked from voice and data services. Each of the carriers will build their own database of customer stolen phone data over the next six months and these databases will then be integrated over the following twelve months. All mobile phones and tablets that connect to a carrier’s cell network will be included in the database if reported stolen, but not Wi-Fi only tablets and devices that do not use a carrier’s 3G or similar network.

Fraudsters are able to steal mobile phones and resell them, or they may use the mobile devices themselves. When a fraudster has access to someone’s mobile device they can not only access all the information stored in the device, but they can make calls purporting to be the victim from their mobile number in attempts to takeover an account or obtain more identity information. As NFC technology brings payment capabilities to our mobile devices, they will only become more lucrative targets for thieves. While it will take some time for a consumer to report their mobile device stolen and have service disabled, and even though a mobile device can be still be used for some activities without a voice or data connection, being able to block stolen mobile devices from access to service will deter mobile theft and fraud.

Stolen phone databases are already used in several other countries including Australia, Germany, France and the UK, and they will be a welcome addition in the United States. Under the FCC’s plan a database for stolen phones coming from the four major carriers should exist in 18 months while regional carriers are expected to join within two years after. Also under the agreement with the FCC wireless carriers will create initiatives to encourage consumers to use password and PIN protection on their mobile devices, another effort which should help deter fraud in the mobile channel.


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