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Mobile identity theft: Why Delhi Police can’t find your stolen phone

Four ‘flasher’ devices and 401 cell phones were recovered from two men who ran a racket of stolen phones in Old Delhi

delhi Updated: Nov 23, 2016 10:21 IST
Prawesh Lama
The ‘flasher’ is used to erase the IMEI number of cell phones making it impossible to trace stolen devices.
The ‘flasher’ is used to erase the IMEI number of cell phones making it impossible to trace stolen devices.

Why do police never manage to trace lost or stolen cell phones? The culprit is a small gadget code named ‘Flasher’. Not bigger than the regular cell phone battery back-up, it has now become a cause of concern for the police and intelligence agencies.

On November 9, the Delhi police recovered four ‘flashers’ from two men, who over the last four months changed the IMEI or unique identification numbers of over 1000 stolen phones and resold them in the open. During the raid of their store in Ballimaran, Old Delhi, 401 cell phones were recovered by the cops.

The IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) is a unique 15-digit number on every phone. It is used by the police to trace cell phones. The IMEI number helps police track any cell phone to the exact tower the minute a call is made, even if a different SIM card is used. The IMEI number is believed to be tamper proof and different for every cell phone.

The two arrested men ran a racket of reselling stolen mobile phones. They received stolen phones from thieves and pick pockets across the city and sold them after changing the IMEI numbers.

Mohammed Shafi and Waseem, both from Old Delhi, revealed that it took them less than 10 minutes to change the IMEI numbers. Police say that in central Delhi’s Gaffar Market, from where the two claim to have bought the four ‘flashers,’ the device is sold discreetly for anywhere between ₹2,000- 5,000. It is not sold in the open or on e-shopping portals.

“All you need is a USB cord, a CD that comes with the flasher and a computer. The two men showed us that after opening the CD files on the computer, all they have to do is to connect the phone to the laptop using the flasher. There is an option to either use a new 15 digit number as the IMEI or put a number of one’s choice. Once the IMEI is erased, the phone can never be traced,” said Inspector Satender Mohan, who arrested the two men.

The two, police said, were the biggest receivers of stolen mobile phones. Police say that though it is illegal to change the IMEI number, those dealing in stolen phones use it across the city.

In Delhi, around 110 cell phones are reported stolen every day. Police believe the number could be higher as often people do not bother to inform the police about lost phones. Cell phone also tops the list of the most common items stolen every day.

‘FLASHERS DON’T WORK ON iPHONES’

During their interrogation, the two men confessed that ‘Flashers’ do not work on Apple phones. Out of the 401 smartphones police recovered, 32 were iPhone 6 and 6S. The two told police that in Delhi’s stolen phone market, while IMEIs are changed and phones resold, Apple phones are always dismantled and their parts sold separately. The two also told police that many shopkeepers in the grey market are trying different devices and softwares to change IMEI of iPhones. “The screens of Apple phones are in great demand. A stolen iPhone is usually not used because it is risky. It is always dismantled for its parts,” an officer said.

‘STOLEN CELL PHONES - A GREAT BUSINESS’

As cell phones are the easiest to steal, there is an organised chain of thieves and receivers across the city. From the 401 cell phones recovered, police found that the phones were stolen not just from Delhi but other states too such as Gujarat and Maharashtra. Shafi and Waseem bought the stolen phones from different pick pocket gangs and thieves across the city at 10-20 % of the phone’s price and sold it at 40-50% depending on its condition. Shafi who worked as a phone repairman told police that he bought new Apple phones at around ₹4,000- 5,000.