It’s never nice to have either lost your phone, or worse, for someone to have stolen it. For this phone to then be sold on to someone else as if it was a simple commodity, is another thing altogether. The BBC have conducted an investigation into stolen phones, and how easy it is to sell them on, even when anti-theft measures have been put in place. BBC London underwent an undercover investigation into the reselling of stolen phones and found out just how easy it is to turn a locked smartphone into an unassuming used device for general sale. For many of us, the idea that you can give a device a new IMEI, and SIM unlock the device is nothing surprising. After all, we’re Android users, tinkering with devices is almost second-nature to us. What is surprising however, is the scale that this sort of thing is happening in London.
BBC London took a Galaxy S III and an iPhone and personalized them with photos, messages and contacts – the usual stuff – and then reported them stolen and had them locked. The undercover reporters then went into shops across London – such as Ask Mobiles and Computers – and sold the stolen devices brazenly. The reporters made no qualms in their attempts to sell stolen goods, and on their second visit said “Yeah bruv, I stole two more”. The shop owners seemed reluctant to purchase the stolen devices, but did so in the end and presumably returned them to a state fit to sell to the general public.
Speaking to Forensics Researcher, Grant Roughley, the BBC learnt that giving a device a new IMEI number and restoring the device to factory settings was a simple task. Unlocking iPhones and Android phones is something that’s widely advertised up and down the UK on market stalls and shops everywhere. It’s an incredibly simple process if you have the required (minimal) knowledge and the right software. While perhaps shocking to see stolen smartphones sold on time after time like this, it’s hardly surprising. This sort of thing has been going on for some time now, and the change to storing the IMEI number of a read-only part of the device has yet to be implemented by major device manufacturers.