The B.S.:

The smartphone industry takes overdue steps

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

VEGAS INC Coverage

There had been too many events in too short a time, so it was probably inevitable that I’d finally get my signals crossed. After concluding that I was at the wrong place, I headed back to my parked car at the Hughes Center, whipped out my iPhone, again checked the calendar in it, made a phone call and quickly dispatched some emails.

Before sliding behind the wheel, I decided it best to remove my suit jacket, and I temporarily set the phone on the hood of my vehicle. I forgot to say goodbye to it.

Two miles later, I realized my iPhone was neither in my pocket nor on the hood. A few hours after that, I’d completed several slow and useless crawls of my route. Any connection to the world and the people in it was gone, and I’d temporarily joined the estimated 10 percent of our society that does not own a mobile phone. Sigh.

Hughes Center’s courteous security team kept its eyes open in the days and even weeks that followed, but it would not be found; thankfully, our tech squad had soon disabled it, protecting its personal and professional data at least from that point forward.

Since then, I have become a believer in the prudent “Find my iPhone” app. I now passcode-protect the phone. And I have learned that, since it was apparently not flattened onto any of the roadways I checked, it is by now likely being used by somebody else — as are so many other iPhones that have been lost or stolen in recent years, sold on some form of a black market, the expensive devices now often serve another master.

Much of the world is in love with Apple, which produces great products and offers exemplary service. But Apple’s generous customer service has in part inadvertently contributed to a binge of iPhone thefts, due to the ease with which someone can pop in a new SIM card and go to an unsuspecting retailer for service or replacement. When that happens, a carrier can’t list it as stolen or disable it via its unique International Mobile Equipment Identity number — which is the only number the carrier really monitors.

This has helped make them relatively easy to re-sell, and iPhone theft is now way too common and even brazen in the United States — as you may have seen in some violent confrontations from news videos.

Forget the purse or wallet. Just hand over your phone.

The Federal Communications Commission says crime statistics from large cities indicate that cellular devices now account for a whopping 40 percent of all thefts in the nation.

Obviously, many Americans have grown weary of this situation, and some have placed the blame on their carriers. A class action lawsuit filed April 18 against wireless carrier AT&T in Superior Court in Lake Tahoe alleged that AT&T “actively and without reservation aided, abetted and assisted” phone thieves by allowing stolen handsets to be reactivated on its network.

The plaintiffs claim carriers are making undue profits because of their inability to block stolen phones, which in turn forces legitimate customers to buy new devices and new plans for them. The lawsuit claims this mess is avoidable because of the IMEI number imprinted on each cellular device.

An AT&T spokesperson told ABC News the suit is “without merit.”

Now, at last, comes word of a collaboration of the FCC, wireless carriers and law enforcement. Their solution to the situation: a national database that would make stolen smartphones useless.

So, during the rest of this year, the nation’s largest wireless carriers will build a database of stolen devices, identified via that special IMEI number, and prevent thieves from reactivating them. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski says he will hold wireless carriers responsible in this effort.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer has also introduced legislation that will make it illegal to alter IMEI numbers, the way it is now illegal to forge a vehicle identification number.

“It worked for the VIN numbers, and it will work for the cellphone ID numbers,” Schumer told ABC.

Verizon and Sprint had already blocked stolen phones, and AT&T and T-Mobile say they are on board with this project. It’s a common-sense solution that might end this ridiculous cycle.

Oh, I did learn one other thing from this experience. I purchased a cellphone case that will not so easily slide off a vehicle. Turns out my mistake is also a trend.