How Gurugram police are bringing back stolen mobile phones

Published on Oct 12, 2019 11:47 PM IST
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HT Image

Gurugram: Mukta Sharma, an executive in a multinational company, was pleasantly surprised when she received a phone call from a police official on September 16, informing that her Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus cellphone, which she was stolen from MG Road last month, had been traced. The policeman asked Sharma to collect her phone from the police commissioner’s office.

“I could not believe the phone had been found. The phone was stolen when I was returning from the cremation of a friend, who died of an accident. Before I boarded the Metro, someone took it out from my jeans’ pocket. I tried to track the cellphone using the IMEI number with the police’s help, but it was switched off for almost 20 days and I gave up on it. The phone had memories of my friend, pictures together that had not been shared on social media platforms, and I had not saved them anywhere else other than my cellphone. Getting it back was a life-saver,” said Sharma.

The police said this was a rare case and claimed the suspect was a rookie snatcher, who had no association with professionals, so he did not format the phone, and all the data was untouched. He was also unaware that he would be caught the moment he inserted a new SIM card. They traced him as soon as he started using it.

The police said he wanted to sell the cellphone for a higher price, but was not getting more than 7,000, so he had planned to use it. “He switched on the cellphone, but the battery drained and he had no charger, so he took it to a nearby shop, bought a new SIM card and started using it. He was traced with the shopkeeper’s help,” said Karan Goel, assistant commissioner of police (DLF).

Sharma was among 615 anxious people who showed up at the office of commissioner of police in the last two months, hoping to receive their lost or stolen phones. Police said in the past two months, the cyber cell had recovered nearly 700 mobile phones, which were reported missing or were snatched or stolen, as part of a renewed campaign to trace the phones and return them to their owners. Police said that it was a small step and the department has planned to organise these ceremonies once a month after completing legal formalities.Before this initiative police had recovered only 15 mobile phones in the last five years, said police.

Ashwani Singh, who works in a bank and is to retire in December, said he never thought that he would get back his phone almost five months after he lost it. “This is the second time my phone was stolen from the bank. My daughter gifted it to me after she got her first salary, and it was precious for me. Someone took it from my table one day, and despite my all efforts I could not find it. I reported the theft at the Sector 14 police station. I had no hope, but I was astonished when I received a call from police that they have recovered my phone. Only the cover was missing, but the rest was intact,” he said.

“The idea is to recover not just smartphones but low-end phones as well. This is a new exercise and requires the involvement of technical police personnel, and is time-consuming exercise. Earlier, we were dependent on professionals and had to outsource the work, but now we have technically qualified engineers in the force who are working on such cases, “ Goel said.

In Gurugram, the police registered 1,090 cases of cellphone theft in 2011, a number which increased to 5,325 in 2018. This year, more than 3,000 mobile phones were stolen from the city as of October 11police said.

Police officials, however, admitted that the recovery of cellphones isn’t considered a priority. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records for 2014 and 2015, less than 30% stolen cellphones in the country are recovered. Data shows that of a total of 54,615 cellphones stolen in 2014, only 15,671 were recovered— around 29%. In 2013, 24% (9,055) of cellphones stolen (37,878) were recovered. Mobile theft data for subsequent years is not available.

However, there has been a shift and the police is now is focusing more on cases of cellphone theft. Earlier, such incidents were labelled ‘petty crime, but after there was an increase in the number of cases, which also resulted in the loss of personal data, the police said they made it a priority.

Police commissioner Muhammad Akil said the revised focus has been taken to curb incidences of petty crime, which reflects on the performance of the city police.

“Many times, a team of two police personnel travel to different states to recover a cellphone, and the cost of travel is higher than the value of that mobile phone. We want to send out the message that for police any case reported is a priority, and we treat all cases equally.

Akil said cellphones contain a lot of personal information which, if lost, can compromise valuable data. “People have their passwords, banking information, photos stored in them. The phone is not just a physical possession, but people’s sentiments are linked to it,” Akil said.

A team of nine personnel are deployed in the cyber cell to trace stolen phones, police said. The cyber cell department will also hire technologically proficient staff, apart from the qualified police personnel they have. At least six people have been trained in tracing such cases so far.

The initiative was launched in March, and the police have so far has handed over 615 cellphones to their owners at the ceremonies. The first ceremony was held on June 17, the second on August 19, and the third in the third week of September.

Sunny Kumar, a vegetable vendor, said he too was surprised when he received a call from a police officer on September 6 informing him that his cellphone, which someone had nicked from his shop in Sadar vegetable market in the previous month, had been traced.

“I initially thought someone was playing a prank on me, but then I decided to call back and ask for the details. I was shocked that the phone had been found. I had made a note of the people who had taken vegetables on credit on my phone, and had no other such record. The credit amounted to nearly Rs 1.5 lakh, including details of purchases by shopkeepers on credit. Thankfully, I recovered my data as the person had not deleted the notepad file. But Ilost all my contacts,” Kumar said.

“We set up a cyber cell in March this year for this purpose, and we receive more than 15 complaints of people losing their mobile phones or them being snatched every day,” Akil said.

The police said it takes a minimum of 15 days to trace a cellphone, and can happen only after the snatcher or user has inserted a new SIM. After identifying the lost phone’s IMEI number, the police keep tabs on it till it is activated using a new SIM. Once the phone is activated, they track it and nab the person using it.

In August, the police team recovered a stolen cellphone from a shopkeeper in Mumbai. “We tracked the movement of the phone and reached the person who was using it. He told us he had bought it from a coolie who was in dire need of money and had sold it for Rs 2,000, whereas the original cost of the phone was Rs 25,000,” Akil said.

The team has recovered mobile phones from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

More than 23 suspects have been arrested, though the police are yet to ascertain the precise number of cases they are involved in.

The police said in many cases the suspects had dismantled the handsets and had hawked the parts, fearing police action. There is scant chance of recovering lost phones if the IMEI number is changed, the police said.

Thieves usually sell the cellphones in different cities, and used to get the IMEI numbers changed as well. However, the police said, the process has now become more challenging, with only a few shopkeepers who can carry it out.

The police said they have also started a drive wherein they have urged people to deposit any lost cellphone they find, at the nearest police station.

Rahul Singh, who works with a multinational company in the city, was among those who received their stolen cellphones this September. He said this was the second phone he had lost this year. “My girlfriend broke up with me after I had lost my first phone, because it was a gift from her. I hope the police can recover that phone as well. I might just approach her again,” he said.


How police recover missing mobile phone

Police ask for IMEI number which has unique identification of mobile number

Share the IMEI number with service providers for ascertaining the user details of the number on which the handset is activated subsequent to the theft.

The investigating official work upon the IMEI numbers of stolen phones in order to trace them.

The Investigating officer recovers the information through the service provider if any new SIM is inserted in the handset

The police officer visit the location through the tracker

Get hold of the suspect using the handset.

How to file an FIR

Visit your nearby police station

Tell the police official to register the FIR for a stolen mobile phone under Section 154 of CrPC.

Share the IMEI number of your mobile phone and details of the handset such as make and colour.

Share the details of the location from where it was snatched or stolen.

Collect copy of the FIR and track the status of the complaint.


    Leena Dhankhar has worked with Hindustan Times for five years. She has covered crime, traffic and excise. She now reports on civic issues and grievances of residents.

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