Cell Phone Database Takes Aim at Smartphone Black Market

Cell phone thieves accustomed to turning big profits on stolen devices may soon find themselves out of business as a new national system comes on line to render any phone reported stolen permanently inoperable.

That may be small comfort to anyone with a missing phone now. But authorities expect the new system—a shared database of stolen phones—will vastly cut down on cell phone crime, which by one estimate makes up at least a third of all robberies.

The database “could probably kill this black market pretty quick,” said Kenneth Angarone, a Chicago police commander who until recently ran a downtown precinct where much of the city’s smartphone crime occurs. “You take away the black market and you take away the issue.”

The first phase of what advocates hope will grow into a nationwide effort to track pilfered devices, involves AT&T and T-Mobile. On Oct. 31 the two carriers, which operate on the GSM network, began sharing records on all devices reported lost or stolen to prevent them from being reactivated.

Verizon and Sprint, which operate on the CDMA network and maintain their own individual blacklists, will merge their data into a more comprehensive database by November 2013. That will give the country’s four major carriers access to a nearly complete roster of phones reported stolen in the United States.

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