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br Last Year, Schumer Announced an Agreement Between Cell Carriers FCC to Create Stolen Cell Phone Registry; Database Will Keep Track of Cell Phone ID Numbers and if Victims of Theft Report Their Phones Stolen, They Could be DisabledbrbrbrDatabase Just Started Running, But Can Only Work if Thieves Dont Tamper With Cell Phone ID Number Schumer Bill Would Add Criminal Penalty, Including Prison Time, for Altering Unique Cell Phone ID NumbersbrbrbrSchumer: Harsher Penalties Are Needed to Hang-Up on

Today at the Syracuse Police 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 multiyear criminal penalty, in the wake of a dramatic spike in cell phone thefts in the Syracuse area. Since 2011, cell phone thefts are up 64% in the City of Syracuse, and almost all of them either involve a gun, knife, or other forms of violent threats.  As a percentage of all robberies, cell phone thefts have steadily risen, from 22% of all crimes in 2011 to 35% of all crimes in 2013. 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, which just got up and running late last year.


"These crimes of stolen smart phones are rapidly rising in the Syracuse 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 just got up and running at the end of last year with my legislation means we will finally have the tools to hangup on wouldbe smart phone thieves who now prey on Onondaga County residents."


Tim McKone, AT&T Executive Vice President of Federal Relations said, "AT&T applauds Senator Schumer for reintroducing legislation to help deter the theft of wireless communications devices.  The Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act is a critical component in helping law enforcement and wireless carriers address the growing issue of stolen devices.  In 2012, we launched a website to help educate our customers on how to protect their wireless devices, and we created a stolen phone database which prevents devices reported stolen by our customers from working on our network. We thank the Senator for his tireless efforts in this area and we look forward to working with him and his colleagues as this legislation moves forward."


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 Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler, members of Syracuse PD, cited the measurable uptick in cellphone related thefts.  Since 2011, cell phone thefts are up 64% in the City of Syracuse.  As a percentage of all robberies, cell phone thefts have steadily risen, from 22% of all crimes in 2011 to 35% of all crimes in 2013.  For all of Onondaga County, the numbers are similar; cell phone thefts have risen from 21% of all robberies in 2011 to 33% of all robberies in 2013.   While overall crime has fluctuated over the past three years in Onondaga County, cell phone thefts have steadily risen, from 100 cell thefts in 2011, to 133 in 2012, to 161 in 2013.  Schumer also provided examples of recent cell phone thefts in the Syracuse area:


  • In September 2013, four teenagers forcibly took a woman's phone on N. Crouse Ave.;
  • In October 2013, a teenager forcefully stole a 14yearold's phone on Brighton Ave.;
  • Also in October 2013, two men accosted a man on E. Genesee St. and stabbed him while they struggled to take his cell phone;
  • In December 2013, two teenagers blocked off Lodi St. and stole a man's cell phone;
  • And, just last month, over $3,200 worth of cell phones were stolen from the Cicero Twin Rinks. The criminals went into the locker room and took several phones from unsecured lockers.


According to the FCC, approximately 40% of thefts in major American cities involve cell phones.