The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fast-track tech drives mobile crime
- cell ID switched to stump cops

Combating cellular crime has sent alarm bells ringing through the corridors of Lalbazar. Be it tracing a stolen cellphone or identifying the origin of a crank call, the job is getting tougher with each passing day.

And the sleuths blame it all on fast-track technology. Recently, they have discovered that cellphone lifters are changing the original software of the handset. Deputy commissioner of police, special, (detective department) Pijush Pandey said criminals are changing the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identifier) numbers with the help of software experts. “We have a hunch that they have imported some software from Singapore and Hong Kong that enables them to tamper with the IMEI numbers. They may have downloaded it from some website, as well,” added Pandey.

Along with the rise in the number of cases of cellphone thefts, the number of complaints — from young women and businessmen — of crank calls from unknown numbers have seen a surge in the past few months.

“After a series of abductions and attempted kidnappings in the city, I decided to instal a CLI (caller line identification) unit in my telephone. But I soon realised that this was useless, as it couldn’t trace the origin of some of the crank calls flashing ‘private number’ or ‘call’ on my screen. I have now sought help from the police,” says a key businessman from Burrabazar.

During the inquiry, the police learnt that a new gadget, offered by mobile phone subscribers, has been enabling cellphone users to conceal their identity and skirt the CLI trap. “The process is very simple. Once a person instals a CLIR (caller line identification restriction) machine in his cellphone, the number will not flash on a CLI-enabled cellphone,” said a senior police officer probing the case.

Following the rise in the number of such complaints, the police have decided to take up the issue with cellular operators. “At present, we offer a CLIR facility to subscribers at Rs 199 a month. But we cannot stop anyone from abusing the facility,” admitted an Airtel spokesperson.

The police have, meanwhile, formed a tech team to curb cell crime in the city. To be led by officer-in-charge (bomb squad) Tarapada Banerjee, the team’s top priority will be to identify the software that’s being used to change the IMEI numbers.

A few days back, officers of the team seized over 700 cellphones from raids conducted in various parts of the city and found the thieves using different IMEI numbers for different handsets in most of the cases.

For instance, a Nokia handset seized during the raid had an IMEI number representing a Panasonic code. “We used to depend a lot on the IMEI numbers to track down the stolen phone, with the help of BSNL and VSNL. But now, with the IMEI numbers being tampered with, tracking down a stolen phone has become next to impossible,” summed up Pandey.

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