Wireless Industry Tries To Thwart Smartphone Thefts

The wireless phone industry has a plan to take the profit out of the market for stolen smartphones. At the urging of police chiefs across the country and federal regulators, the industry is developing a database of stolen devices.

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The theft of smartphones and cell phones accounts for almost 40 percent of all robberies in major American cities. Now, the industry is joining up with local police and federal regulators to try and reverse that trend.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Americans have heartily embraced smartphones, says Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.

JULIUS GENACHOWSKI: The growth is incredible. Within the past year, the percentage of Americans with smartphones has doubled - going from about 25 percent of subscribers to more than 50 percent.

BRADY: These phones can cost up to $400, so no surprise they're a target for thieves, who then re-sell them online or through less-than-reputable businesses. The industry response is to make stolen devices unusable.

At the center of this program will be a database of all the smartphones reported stolen in the U.S. Christopher Guttman-McCabe is with the wireless industry group CTIA.

CHRISTOPHER GUTTMAN-MCCABE: Every time someone brings a phone with them to a carrier to try to initiate service, that database will be checked, will be looked at to see if the phone is on that database. If it is, it will be denied service.

BRADY: Without cell service, the stolen phone loses its value. The industry, police and the FCC hope that will dry up the market for stolen phones and take away the incentive to steal them in the first place.

Five companies have signed on so far - Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Nex-Tech. They represent more than 90 percent of the current market.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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