News story

New code of practice to close multi-million pound stolen phones loop

A new deal to stop an estimated 100,000 stolen mobile phones, worth around £4m, being sold to recycling companies was announced today by crime prevention minister James Brokenshire.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The agreement aims to close a loophole which sees thousands of phones - worth an average of £40 each - sold to recyclers each year.

Currently 90 per cent of handsets reported stolen in the UK are blocked across all networks within 48 hours of reporting, making them useless in the UK to criminals trying to sell them on. However, blocked phones can still be used abroad and as the recycling industry exports many of the handsets it buys this has created a new market for stolen phones. 

Companies who sign up to the new code of practice will work closely with police and check the details of every phone they are offered against the national mobile phone register, a database of all phones reported stolen. If the handset has been reported as stolen the company will refuse to buy the phone and details of the phone and the person trying to sell it to them will be passed to police to investigate.

Statement from the Crime Prevention Minister

Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said, ‘Tackling crime effectively is not just a job for government alone, action at all levels of society is needed to make a real difference. This new agreement is a perfect example of what this approach can achieve.

‘By joining forces with the police, the mobile phone industry is closing a multi-million pound loophole that has been exploited by criminals and the industry should be congratulated. Alongside the impressive work on blocking stolen phones, this code will make mobile phone theft an even less profitable crime.’

Statement from the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum

Jack Wraith, chairman of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum, said: ‘The industry welcomes this very important initiative on the part of the recyclers. It not only closes off an avenue used by criminals to gain from theft of mobile phones, it also demonstrates those recyclers who have signed up to the scheme are serious in their efforts to support the continuing battle against mobile phone theft.’

Statement from the Association of Chief Police Officers

Commander Simon Pountain, from the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: ‘As a result of the hard work and commitment of the recycling and mobile phone industry, combined with the work of the Home Office and the police, there is now the possibility of detecting up to a further 100,000 offences countrywide. 

‘To date numerous arrests have taken place and stolen goods recovered. Significant offences such as robberies and burglaries have been solved through utilising this new system which has also led to arrests for murder. This is a great example of partnership working at its best for the benefit of the wider community.’

Endorsed by industry

Those companies that sign up will be endorsed by the industry so consumers can have confidence in the recycler they are dealing with. So far 20 mobile phone recyclers, representing 90 per cent of the industry, have committed to the agreement.

The code of practice, which has been developed by the Telecommunications Fraud Forum (TUFF), government and police, will be administered by TUFF who will monitor it to ensure it is being adhered to. Sanctions will be taken against companies that do not comply with it. 

Notes to editors 

The recyclers who have signed up to code so far are: 20 - 20 Mobile, Anovo, Earthmobile Ltd, Eazyfone, EMC Recycle, Regenersis, Fone Hub, Greener Solution, Mazuma Mobile, Mobile Phone Exchange, Mobile Phone Recycling Organisation, Money for Your Phone, Redeem PLC, Royal Mail, RPC Recycle, SHP Solutions, West One Technology, Fonebank, Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media.

For more information about the code of practice go to the stop recycled stolen phones website.

The national mobile phone register is linked to three national databases - the industry database of mobiles that have been blocked; the police database of mobiles reported stolen; and a voluntary public register of ownership details of mobiles (Immobilise). Phones can be searched across these databases to identify them, establish if they are lost or stolen and returned to their rightful owner.

Other crime reduction initiatives to result from government and industry collaboration include:

  • the mobile phone industry crime reduction charter, which resulted in handsets reported stolen being blocked with 48 hours across all UK networks
  • the creation of the national mobile phone crime unit to help develop and roll out of best practice to police forces across the country as well as encouraging and supporting early engagement with the mobile phone industry
  • the M-Commerce best practice guidelines, launched in August 2009, where the mobile and banking industries came together to agree some basic principles to ensure that the roll out of this technology reduces the risk of crime.

According to online due diligence specialists Recipero, which provide information to the national mobile phone register, at least 100,000 handsets with an average value of £40 that have been reported stolen to the police by their rightful owner are recycled every year.

For more information contact the Home Office press office on 020 7035 3535.

Published 23 July 2010