FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 12, 2013
SCHUMER: 75% OF REPORTED ROBBERIES IN ROCHESTER INVOLVE CELL PHONES, RATE IS ONLY RISING – SENATOR ANNOUNCES LEGISLATION TO CRACKDOWN ON BLACK MARKET FOR CELL PHONES THAT WILL MAKE TAMPERING WITH THE UNIQUE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER OF A STOLEN CELL PHONE A FEDERAL CRIME
Last Year, Schumer Announced an Agreement Between Cell Carriers & FCC to Create Stolen Cell Phone Registry by Nov 30th; Database Will Keep Track of Cell Phone ID Numbers and if Victims of Theft Report Their Phones Stolen, They Could be Disabled
Database Can Only Work if Thieves Don’t Tamper With Cell Phone ID Number – Schumer Bill Would Add Criminal Penalty of Up to Five Years in Prison for Altering Unique Cell Phone ID Numbers
Rochester Police Reported in October That Cell Phone Theft Causing 15.2% Jump in Robberies Since Last Year
Today, at the Rochester Public Safety Building, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced legislation that will make it a federal crime to tamper with the unique identification number of a cell phone by imposing a five-year criminal penalty, in the wake of a dramatic spike in cell phone thefts in the Rochester area. In the first half of 2013 alone, robberies in the Rochester area were up 14%, 75% of which involved the theft of a cell phone. The problem is not slowing down, with robbery rates through October now the highest in five years, up 15.2% from 2012 despite an overall 8.5% drop in crime in Rochester. The theft of Apple iPhones and smart phones has even spurred a new moniker, called “apple picking.” Last year, Schumer and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a new effort along with major cell phone carriers that would create a stolen cell phone registry to track unique cell phone identification numbers. The International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers allow cell phone companies to permanently disable stolen cell phones once they are reported stolen. The database can only work if thieves don’t tamper with these IMEI numbers to reactive the phone. Schumer highlighted the urgency of his bill, which will add teeth to the cell phone registry set to go online by this month on November 30th.
Schumer has been leading an effort to crackdown on cell phone theft and last year called for the creation of a national database among the carriers. Schumer noted, however, that without a criminal penalty for tampering with IMEI numbers, thieves could try to get around the ban simply by altering the number to reactivate the phone. The Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act of 2013 adds a criminal penalty of up to five years in prison for tampering with the IMEI number of a cell phone.
“These ‘apple-picking’ crimes of stolen smart phones are rapidly rising in the Rochester area and we must make it clear that if you alter the identification number of a stolen cell phone, you will face serious consequences,” said Schumer. “This legislation will make it a federal crime to tamper with a phone’s identification number, putting teeth into our efforts to build a national stolen cell phone registry, and deter cell phone theft in the future. Bolstering the national stolen phone database that goes live on November 30 with my legislation means we will finally have the tools to hang-up on would-be smart phone thieves who now prey on Monroe County residents.”
“CTIA and its members strongly support Senator Schumer's legislation to give law enforcement an additional tool to curb mobile device theft. We look forward to working with the Senator and hope Congress will act swiftly to enact his bill,” said Jot Carpenter, Vice President of Government Affairs at CTIA.
Before last year’s historic agreement with the FCC and major cell phone carriers, when a cell phones was reported stolen, many American cell phone companies only deactivated the phone’s “SIM” card. The “SIM” card is simply the account data storage component of the device. While deactivation of a SIM card does not allow for the device to be used with existing data and account information, SIM cards are easily removed and replaced, allowing stolen phones to be resold on the black market. All one needs to do is put a different SIM card into the device. Last year, at Schumer’s urging, the industry agreed to work together with the FCC and establish a nationwide, interconnected database that will allow the carriers to share information and the unique identification IMEI number on stolen cell phones across networks, and ban the use of cell phones reported stolen.
Schumer’s bill, the Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act of 2013 is a critical piece of the plan because it will add criminal penalties of up to five years in jail for tampering with cell phones in order to circumvent the service ban on a stolen phone. The bill has the full support of CTIA, the Wireless Association, who have joined forces with Schumer and the FCC to implement the national database. Schumer said that his legislation would treat cell phones like cars: it is illegal to tamper with a car’s unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is what makes it very hard to resell a stolen car, and has helped limit car theft.
Schumer, joined by Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard, members of the Rochester PD, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, and Deputy Director for the University of Rochester Department of Public Safety Mark Fischer, cited the measurable uptick in cell-phone related thefts. Last year, the Rochester police reported 254 larcenies that involved iPhones or iPads, whereas there were only 87 in 2011. Schumer also provided examples of recent cell phone thefts in the Rochester area:
· In September 2013 in Rochester, a woman and her son were followed by 20 male teenagers and robbed of her cell phone;
· A female University of Rochester undergraduate student was the victim of an off-campus strong- arm robbery on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at about 7:15 A.M., while walking eastbound along Elmwood Avenue;
· A female University of Rochester undergraduate student was the victim of an off-campus robbery on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at about 7:00 A.M., while jogging. A lone male suspect approached her from behind and grabbed her phone from her hand;
· In April 2013, a Rochester man was robbed at gunpoint by two teenagers;
· In February 2013, a 12 year old boy was assaulted and robbed on his cell phone after getting off the school bus;
· In May 2013 over a 4 day span two separate incidents were reported of an assailant assaulting victims near Mount Hope Avenue and stealing their cell phones;
· In October 2012 a woman was punched and robbed of her mobile phone at 3pm in the East End parking garage.
According to the FCC, approximately 40% of thefts in major American cities involve cell phones.