Mobile phones used to commit crimes often end up in the hands of unsuspecting buyers, writes G. Anand.

When a college student, spurred partly by a peer pressure-driven craze to own the latest mobile device, procured a second-hand one from a coastal locality famous for its contraband goods market, little did he realise that he would soon end up in police custody.

The youth told The Hindu that he thought that he had seized a good deal when he purchased the “brand new-looking” device for less than half its market price.

He used it for two days. On the third day, an official from the Police High-Tech Crime Enquiry Cell called him and asked him to appear with the phone at the local police station.

The youth and his parents were surprised to learn that the phone was a recently stolen one.

Burglars had broken into the house of the phone owner and decamped with the costly device and other valuables.

The police, believing his story, stopped short of formally booking the student on the charge of possessing stolen property.

N. Vinayakumaran Nair, Assistant Commissioner, High-Tech Cell, says that there is a thriving market for lost and stolen cell phones in the city.

In 2011, his unit traced 1,857 mobile phones that were reported stolen or lost. Mobile phones used briefly for committing various crimes also end up in the hands of unsuspecting buyers.

He says many of the lost or stolen phones reach markets for used goods in North India, primarily West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Assam.

Police investigations have revealed that many of the users of similarly procured devices are migrant workers.

Tracking

The police locate stolen and lost mobile phones by tracking the devices using their unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers to find out the “last usage location” and Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) of the device.

Hence, they advise mobile users to note their device's identity number by typing *#06# on its keyboard.

Another police investigator says that not all stolen phones can be recovered.

Certain recently developed software enables technically proficient lawbreakers to spoof even the IMEI number of mobile phones.

However, thankfully, such technology is not yet rife in Kerala, he says.