Police use UV marking to fight mobile theft

Thousands of mobile phones will be labelled in an attempt to cut the spiralling number of handset thefts and increase the chances of property being returned to its owner

London police are fighting back against mobile phone thieves by using ultraviolet marker pens to label thousands of handsets.

The operation, which is currently underway in 20 London boroughs, is an attempt to deter thieves and will also make it easier for the police to return recovered mobile handsets to their rightful owners.

Police officers are also urging mobile users to record their IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers. Each phone has a unique IMEI number, and mobile operators can use this information to prevent a stolen handset working on their networks.

As well as writing a person's postcode using ink that will show up under UV light, a UV identification sticker will be added to each phone. The police hope that this will deter a potential thief from snatching a handset, since the UV sticker makes handsets more easily identifiable as stolen property.

"I hope as many mobile phone owners as possible will take advantage of the Safer Streets campaign," said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens in a statement. "Have your mobile phone UVID marked and record your IMEI number. It really will help us to catch mobile phone robbers, you will stand a much better chance of getting your property back and it could deter a thief from stealing it in the first place," he added.

These moves are part of the Metropolitan Police's Safer Streets initiative. Thefts of mobile phones have rocketed in recent months, to a level where both the police and the government are extremely concerned.

Britain's most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, addressed this issue in January when he recommended that anyone convicted of stealing a handset should face up to five years in prison -- or even longer if violence is used.

The UV marking team started work on 11 February, and is targeting areas with the highest levels of mobile theft. A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman told ZDNet UK that they are aiming to mark over 18,000 handsets over 20 days on the streets.

After months of pressure, BT Cellnet and Vodafone recently agreed to block the IMEI numbers of stolen mobile phones from their networks, something that rival operators Orange and One2One have done for some time. This means that a stolen handset would be pretty much unusable in the UK, as long as a victim knew the IMEI number of their handset.

However, experts have already warned that IMEI numbers can be reprogrammed.

To find the IMEI number of your mobile phone, type *#06# into your handset.


If it moves, we cover it. See ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology News Section for the latest news, reviews and price checks on mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers and anything else you can take away.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.