The number is up for mobile phone thieves

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2006, 12:00am

Every year thousands of phones lost on Hong Kong's public transport system are destroyed or auctioned for charity. But a local security company says it has come up with a system to keep stolen and lost phones off the black market and make their theft pointless.

Secure-A-Phone International has started compiling a central database of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers, the identification codes unique to all mobile phones.

They already have more than 20,000 phones registered in their database, and have tried out a crime prevention scheme in Sai Kung that encourages participating restaurants and bars to return phones identified as lost or stolen.

Secure-A-Phone partner Calvin Craig says for the scheme to be effective, all mobile phone operators must participate so all phones can be registered and traced.

Having all phones on a central database would allow a daily blacklist of phones reported stolen or lost, which would be provided to network operators.

The database would also be available to second-hand phone dealers and police so they can check a handset's history.

'We presented the idea to Ofta [Office of the Telecommunications Authority] to become the default database to block numbers. We would send a list [of stolen phones] to providers and say what's on the network. But we've had a lot of 'no, no, no we're not interested'. The network providers are saying 'the public won't like that'.'

Crime Prevention Bureau Detective Chief Inspector Bob White said: 'The bureau would support anything which makes it harder to resell stolen mobile phones.'

Ofta said it was still in discussion with police and mobile service operators about a centralised database. The watchdog welcomed Secure-A-Phone's initiative, but added it was up to the operators to decide whether to join the service.

But Mr Craig, who hopes to get 500,000 customers to prove the scheme can work, said Ofta was unwilling to act. 'They seem to think they represent the mobile phone companies and not the public.'

Police said more than 10,900 phones were reported stolen in 2005, but the actual number of phones lost and stolen every year was almost impossible to verify.

The MTR Corp said 299 phones were recovered on the rail system last year, but they did not seek out the owners. 'We think we cannot turn on the phones and read the information because of privacy issues,' a spokeswoman said. The phones are held for three months and destroyed if not reclaimed.

The KCRC found 552 mobile phones in 2005 and returned 387. A spokesman said they turned on the phones and tried to contact the owners and saw no problems with privacy issues. Unclaimed phones are auctioned, with the proceeds going to charity.

New World First Bus and Citybus find a combined average of 130 phones on their buses every month. The phones are kept for three months and, if unclaimed, are auctioned, with the proceeds given to charity.

The Taxi Operators Association said lost phones were called in to a Commercial Radio hotline (187 2920) but there were no procedures for unclaimed phones.