Bloomberg News

Mexico, U.S. Agree to Fight Stolen Phone Trafficking

November 13, 2012

Mexican and U.S. officials agreed to increase cooperation to combat cross-border trafficking of stolen mobile telephones.

Hector Olavarria Tapia, under-secretary of communications of Mexico’s Secretariat of Communications and Transport, and U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski signed an agreement pledging steps that include promoting the use of security features such as personal identification numbers and passwords.

“We’re continuing to crack down on the stolen phone market,” Genachowski said at a signing ceremony at FCC headquarters in Washington.

Mobile-phone theft is a growing problem, with more than 40 percent of robberies in Washington, New York and other major cities involving smartphones and other wireless devices, Genachowski said.

Mexican and U.S. wireless companies have agreed to participate in international registries of stolen devices, Olavarria and Genachowski said. Companies can disable devices reported stolen, killing the phones’ worth on black markets.

U.S. mobile carriers led by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. (T:US) in April agreed to disable smartphones that are reported stolen.

Steps in Mexico and the U.S. to fight stolen-phone use could create an incentive to export the phones, and authorities wanted to get ahead of the problem, Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at the signing ceremony.

“When you squeeze one end of it to shut it down, it’s going to move somewhere else,” Lanier said. “We didn’t want that to happen.”

“It’s not a big problem right now. We don’t want it to become a big problem,” Lanier said.

Thefts Increase

Officials don’t have good statistics on the extent of cross-border trade in stolen phones, Genachowski said.

In July, the main mobile network operators in Latin America agreed to connect to a stolen handset database, according to a news release posted on the website of GSMA, a mobile-carriers trade group.

Participants provide more than 500 million mobile connections and include America Movil SAB, the biggest mobile- phone carrier in the Americas by subscribers, and companies in Panama, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, the trade group said. Earlier, companies in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama collaborated to identify stolen phones, GSMA said.

Across the U.S. there has been a sharp increase in robberies of communication devices including phones, smartphones and tablet computers, often through violent attacks, the Major Cities Chiefs Association said in a Feb. 12 resolution. The group represents police chiefs in the 50 largest U.S. cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In the agreement signed today, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to “closely track, analyze, and report progress in preventing mobile device theft” and work together on ways to educate consumers about mobile-device security, according to an FCC news release.

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net


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