With cell phone theft on the rise -- endangering Ohioans and consuming critical police department resources and time -- U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced a plan today to deter theft by preventing the illegal resale of stolen phones. He was joined by Jason Simon, Youngstown City Police Captain and Commander of the Services Division. He was also joined by Cassie Mosure-Oles, a recent Youngstown State graduate who had her phone stolen while cheerleading a Penguins game at the Beeghly Center.
"Too many Mahoning Valley citizens have been targeted for crime, just because of the phone in their pocket or purse," Brown said. "With so much of this criminal activity fueled by the black market, this legislation will crack down on cell phone theft and impose severe consequences on thieves who will think twice before trying to make a quick buck."
As of last year, about 87 percent of Americans own a cell phone -- about 45 percent are smart phones, according to the Pew Research Center. A stolen iPhone can cost up to $849.00 to replace.
Criminals often target cell phones because they can easily be resold on the black market. Prior to the establishment of the database, most carriers only deactivated a stolen cell phone's SIM card rather than the entire phone. While carriers entered into an agreement with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch a database of unique cell phone identification numbers to allow stolen cell phones to be entirely deactivated, some criminals are tampering with those unique identifiers-- known as International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers -- to avoid detection.
"The Youngstown Police Department is committed to combating crime within our community," Simon said. "As technology becomes more advanced and more a part of our everyday lives, we must utilize every tool at our disposal to ensure that criminals who violate the laws are punished appropriately. Cellular devices are mainstream in our society and are used universally in personal and business applications. Those criminals who disrupt the lives of others using that technology for malevolent purposes should be held strictly accountable because such crimes directly affect the victim in numerous ways, both tangible and intangible."
The Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act of 2013 would impose criminal penalties of up to five years for criminals who tamper with cell phones IMEIs in order to circumvent the database. The bill would provide exceptions for legal alterations made to repair or refurbish phones or to protect the privacy and security of the end user. The bill has the full support of CTIA, the Wireless Association, which joined forces with the FCC to implement the national database.
"It was such a horrible feeling to know someone had my phone," Mosure-Oles said. "I also felt extremely violated knowing some stranger had all my information that was private in my phone. I did everything on my phone including email, looking up information, texting friends and family, and calling. I wasn't able to do that anymore, and it was such an inconvenience. Having my phone stolen was a horrible experience that I would never want anyone else to go through."