Posted by Fox Van Allen
So many smartphones are given out by wireless carriers for free that it can be easy to forget that these phones have real, much higher costs. The most basic iPhone 4S will cost you $649 to replace out of contract. And because smartphones are so valuable, phones are popular targets for thieves.
That could soon be changing, however. The big four wireless companies, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon have announced a deal with the U.S. government to make stolen cell phones useless. The agreement would create a nationwide database to track lost and stolen phones over the next 12 months. Once a phone is reported stolen, it would be impossible to reactivate.
Currently, phones on the AT&T and T-Mobile network are identified by easily removable SIM cards. This new database would require the two companies to move to a new method of electronic identification — an additional verification step to prove to the cell network that your phone has not been reported stolen.
The database isn’t a perfect solution. Deactivated phones still have a number of uses, from games to WiFi connectivity. And of course, it is possible for thieves to use software to change a phone’s electronic ID. Still, by making it harder to profit from a stolen phone, authorities believe the U.S. will experience a sharp drop in theft. A similar program in the U.K. has seen cellphone theft decline 20% since 2004, despite a doubling in the number of cellphones being owned.