Tuesday December 4, 2012

ERIC TUCKER

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Victims of cellphone theft can now contact their wireless carriers and have their devices remotely disabled before they’re resold on the black market, District of Columbia officials said Monday.

Police hope to deter would-be thieves by taking the value out of stolen phones -- a common target for criminals -- and rendering them useless for resale. Phones that are reported stolen would be permanently deactivated, or "bricked," police said. Wireless carriers covering the vast majority of cellphone users, including in the nation’s capital, are participating.

"If your phone is stolen, you can either call your carrier or you can go online to be able to get, essentially, the phone disabled," said Mayor Vincent Gray, who made the announcement with Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

The news follows the announcement last April that the nation’s major wireless carriers had committed to combat cellphone theft, and disable smartphones and tablets that are reported stolen, through the creation of a shared, centralized database. The database is expected to be merged, across carriers, sometime next year, said the chief, who in April joined police chiefs from New York and Philadelphia in announcing the partnership with the wireless industry.

"We saw that all across the United States, every city was having the same problem, so everybody was frustrated," Lanier said Monday. "So I’d say yes, everybody is concentrating on trying to safeguard people’s property when it comes to these electronic devices. This is not the end of the battle by any means."

The Federal Communications Commission says the initiative also involves a public education campaign for smartphone users and automatic prompts that remind consumers to set up passwords and protect their phones.

To draw attention to the problem, D.C. officials unveiled a website, http://www.brickit.dc.gov, offering robbery and pick-pocket prevention tips as well as a link to an FCC site that lists the phone numbers of major wireless carriers.

The police department has also created posters that show unsuspecting cellphone users in mid-conversation, their devices covered by cash. "This is how thieves see you on the streets," the posters say. "Be aware when you use your electronics."

In addition, Lanier said dozens of additional officers would be patrolling major shopping areas across the city during the holiday season. Some officers will be out in plainclothes, she said. Holidays

"It’s also the time of year when bad guys are out shopping," she said.

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