Insurance fraud adds to mobile theft figures

A significant percentage of the 700,000 mobile handsets reported stolen last year were never really nicked at all, according to an industry body

The recent surge in mobile phone theft is partly caused by fraudulent insurance claims, according to latest research from the mobile industry.

The Mobile Phone Industry Crime Action Forum (MPICAF) claimed this weekend that at least 20 percent of reported mobile thefts are actually faked. As-yet unpublished research from the MPICAF has found that a disturbingly high number of people are falsely claiming their phones have been stolen -- at a time when politicians and the public are increasingly concerned by rising crime figures.

Jack Wraith, MPICAF's executive secretary, told The Independent that the mobile industry had been aware of the problem for some time. "This is a reflection on society that this type of activity is fair game," Wraith said.

The MPICAF's claim comes just days after the Home Office announced new measures to tackle mobile phone theft. Around 700,000 were reported stolen last year, according to official figures, and the government is hoping to crack down on the epidemic.

The Mobile Telephones (Re-programming) Bill will make it an offence to change a mobile phone's unique identity number -- called its IMEA number -- or to own the necessary equipment for such reprogramming. Those found guilty of reprogramming stolen mobile phones with a new IMEA number will face up to five years in jail and unlimited fines, the Home Office said on Friday.

Each mobile handset has a unique IMEI number, which means that mobile operators can block a stolen handset from their network. However, the IMEI number is stored in the software, not the hardware, of the phone, meaning it can be reprogrammed -- something the government is keen to change.

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