The Popularity of Mobile Phone Thefts

January 16, 2018 Crime , OTHER , Technology


Ricardo Swire


The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has received a new electronic crime fighting tool. The island’s Ministry of National Security disbursed US$45,000 or Jca$5,569,142.26 to buy state-of-the-art mobile phone recovery equipment for law enforcers. Jamaica’s internal security data quantifies 2,400 mobile phones are stolen annually. With an average value of Jca$12,000 or US$97 per phone, local thieves make Jca$28.8 million yearly profit.

The JCF’s technology is supported by a special Ministry of National Security website. Residents can electronically register their mobile phones and if stolen request remote tracking or locking by the JCF. Initially, blocking a smart phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) after the device is reported stolen was an effective enforcement countermeasure. Caribbean intelligence officials note Jamaican criminal organizations use freelance technicians to circumvent stolen mobile phones’ security features. Such technicians charge approximately Jca$2,000 or US$16 to disarm the device’s IMEI.

In December 2008, following the JCF’s Organised Crime Investigative Division (OCID) registration of sixteen thousand stolen mobile phones monthly, regional service providers Digicel and LIME began blocking devices reported missing in Jamaica. In April 2014 an Inspector attached to the OCID confirmed his Unit was analysing cases of stolen mobile phones with electronically embedded IMEI manipulations. Caribbean intelligence officials refer to the 2014 public expose by a Jamaican phone technician about the illegal practice and its daily occurrence in downtown Kingston.

Referring to IMEI changes “David” attested; “That is a daily thing.” He added customers frequently visit his shop to change IMEIs on “acquired” phones. David admitted that similar to several other local technicians he is not concerned about the origin of a device. The Kingstonian added some “people say them want it change every day.” Jamaica’s underground stolen phone benefactors are well aware that in international countries such as America and England, with active digital phone databases, tampering with IMEI translates to six months in prison.

Jamaica does not have any legislation that prohibits IMEI changes. Such absence means the electronic procedure is not illegal. The JCF’s newly purchased technology plus the OCID/ LIME/Digicel sharing of sensitive data facilitates faster stolen mobile phone detection and recovery. Under Jamaica’s Telecommunications Act service providers are mandated “to provide communications data for investigative purposes.” Jamaican “double-role” phone technicians like David boast that after they alter a stolen device’s IMEI Digicel and LIME recognize the smart-phone on the networks as a “new device” therefore service is not blocked.

Caribbean intelligence data highlight that similar to international counterparts, aided by “Dark Web” cyber portals, Jamaican phone thieves flourish in domestic identity theft. The underworld characters are able to glean treasure troves of personal information via phishing attacks, as smart phones store emails and private data. Trends show how the phone thieves impersonate official service provider representatives and request confirmation of personal details. Armed with fake photo ID the identity/phone thief visits a popular retail store and establishes a bogus account.

“SIM Swapping” or “SIM Splitting” scams are two favourites. Such illegal methods mostly used to gain access to private bank accounts. Smart phone thieves/scammers utilize “two-factor verification” via text message to access these accounts. Private data is purchased on the Dark Net and verified by perusing publicly available social media profiles. The identity thieves later call the relevant telecommunications service provider and masquerade as the victim, declaring their phone is either lost or stolen. The impersonator pleads with the phone company to switch the device’s assigned phone number to another stolen SIM.





Ricardo Swire - Tuck Magazine

Ricardo Swire

Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.

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