SPECIAL REPORT: Black market cell phones - Tucson News Now

SPECIAL REPORT: Black market cell phones

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Mobile phones are a big business. Unfortunately, stealing them is becoming one, too. Investigators say part of the problem is just how easy it is to grab the devices and run.

Police say it's also too easy to resell the cell phones without proving ownership. Culinary student C.J. Miller agreed.

"It was like 30 seconds or less," said Miller.

Miller said someone stole his cell phone while he was at football practice.

"We were in the locker room," said Miller. "I sat it down on the top of my locker. I went to the front of the locker room to get something, and somebody came by, picked it up, and turned it off right away, and took it."

Miller's coach took up a donation, but it still cost Miller his peace of mind and about $200 for a new phone.

"When I went to the phone company they wanted nothing to do with it," said Miller. "They said they couldn't work any deals out for it. They made me pay full price for a brand new phone."

Kami Harcourt's cell phone was also stolen.

"I decided to write a note to the thief who stole my phone," said Harcourt.

She said a thief picked up her phone after she dropped it at a bar.

"We started tracking my phone," said Harcourt. "I had a list of locations from like midnight to 3 a.m. of where my phone was."

Harcourt never found her phone. The next day she ended up canceling her service and losing the tracking ability, but she didn't stop fighting. She posted a note on Facebook and Craigslist. Harcourt said she realizes the crook probably never read her note, but she posted it to make a point.

"We all pay for our cell phones," said Harcourt. "We don't get them for free so I'm like why do you think it's okay for you to pick up something that doesn't belong to you and walk out?"

And chances are that some crooks try to walk into a wireless store to sell them. According to the FCC, one out of every three robberies nationwide involve stealing a cell phone.

The Attorney General's Office confirms that unlike pawn shops, cell phone stores do not have to confirm ownership when buying used phones. That also means the store our producer visited did nothing wrong. It's not illegal because the items weren't stolen. Still, the salesman told us the store does call to see if the phones are reported stolen. Stores often rely on wireless carriers to report stolen information. Police across the country say the system needs work.

"We've been actively exploring an international and industry wide solution," said AT&T spokesperson Holly Hollingsworth.

She said just weeks ago, the FCC rolled out a plan to create a central national database to track stolen phones and prevent them from being used on any other network. It should be up and running within 18 months.

What took so long to get to this point?

"In Europe, for example, there is one kind of wireless network. Here in the US, however, there are two different kinds of wireless networks. So the various carriers - half of them use this kind of network, half of them use that kind of network."

It's something that might have dissuaded a thief from stealing miller's phone a second time-- this time from his bag at track practice. Miller told us he then bought a phone with some data protection software on it. Hollingsworth said take note.

"One of the most important things, it sounds simple," said Hollingsworth." Passwords."

They'll protect your data, because even if a thief gets your phone he or she won't be able to access your personal information.

"In addition to the passwords, which are so important," said Hollingsworth. "You also have this concept of anti-theft software."

Some can lock your device remotely; Others can wipe your content completely.

Experts caution that you should also look to protect your personal safety, as well. Be discreet about using your phone in public, especially if you're in an area you don't feel comfortable. Lastly, if your phone is stolen, report it to police.

Also, make sure you write down the make, model, serial number, and unique identifying number of your mobile device. It'll help you fill out the police report, if need be.

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