Smartphones have become a huge target for unscrupulous looters that have used the riots originating in London as an excuse to break into stores in cities around the U.K. and steal anything that might be of any value.
That’s why thousands of stolen iPhones have flooded the black market in the wake of the riots. But caveat emptor! Within 48 hours, that iPhone you picked up for a song will be worthless.
Macworld contacted several U.K. carriers to find out what happens to these devices once they’re stolen:
Once they have examined their stock records, store owners will be able to report the hardwired IMEI numbers for each lost handset which will result in networks adding them to their Equipment Identity Register (EIR), which will stop them working with any SIM within 24 hours.
The networks will in turn add their EIR list to the Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR), a central database of IMEI numbers accessible by all major networks. That will turn off their use on any UK network within 48 hours.
What’s most worrying at this point is that these devices are sold to unsuspecting customers before they’re blocked, and rather than being lumbered with a collection of useless smartphones, the thieves get their cash. Having said that, if you buy a brand new smartphone at an unbelievably low price, no matter how genuine its seller may seem, you’ve got to assume it’s stolen.
It’s possible that the IMEI numbers of these devices can be changed, but they cannot be assigned a new IMEI number that will work in the U.K., which means they’ll have to be sold abroad. Though thieves are likely to receive just a fraction of the device’s unblocked value in the U.K.
Thankfully, phones that are used with a contract SIM card rather than sold can often be traced, and could lead police to the location of these thieves.