According to the Toronto police, handset thefts are up. And since it's quite easy to just activate that phone on another network, there's not much to dissuade thieves.
In fact, cell phone robberies have doubled in the last three years, getting up to 1800 cases of theft last year alone.
What the police want is for stolen phones to be entered into a national registry – much like the one just proposed in the U.S. – which would make it far easier for other carriers to identify and switch off those devices.
Toronto police are already running their own program for registering and later identifying stolen phones.
From the CBC story:
“We look at their phone and we take the numbers that we need to take from them and then they’re given a sticker that goes on the phone,” said Taverner.
“And then we have markings — invisible markings — that we put on the phone that we’ll be able to identify if the phone is stolen and then recovered, and we can then go back to the original owner.”
The only problem is, most users can't be bothered to go to that much effort for a phone. A phone that might die within six months, get dropped in a toilet or just become obsolete by a newer, sleeker model. Most users probably wouldn't bother registering a device that is as transient as the data on it. More likely options are investments in tools that can remote wipe and deactivate handsets if they're stolen as the data is more important than the phone.
And then there's Apple's own Find my iPhone app which lets users use built-in GPS and WiFi connectivity to locate missing or stolen phones, iPods or Mac computers. Setting that up isn't nearly as time consuming as visiting the police station every time you update your phone.
But the real story here is the lack of activity on the carriers' side of things to make stolen devices less useful. If you can't use a stolen handset on a new carrier because it's blacklisted, most likely you'll think twice before stealing another one or buying one from an unreputable vendor.