UK Cracks Down on Mobile Phone Recycling Industry

Recycling companies will be required to check whether a mobile phone has been reported stolen before reselling it, according to a new code of practice announced by the U.K. government on Friday.

At least 100,000 mobile phones with an average value of £50 (US$75) that have been stolen or blocked by their owners end up being recycled, according to the Home Office, citing statistics from Recipero, a company tracks personal property information. The Home Office predicts that same number of phones will no longer be in circulation with the new code.

Companies that don't follow the code could face sanctions. At least 20 have signed up so far, representing about 90 percent of the industry, according to the Home Office.

About 90 percent of the handsets that are stolen are blocked within 48 hours and can't be used in the U.K. any more. But recycling companies can export those phones to other countries where they will work, which spawned a thriving trade in stolen phones.

The companies will be required to check the National Mobile Phone Register, which is connected to three databases: one of phones that have been blocked, a police database of stolen phones and a voluntary reporting system called Immobilise.

Under the code of practice, recycling companies will have to record the data and time when a phone is acquired, a description of the phone and at minimum the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, the name and address of the person selling the device and the time when the recycler checked the IEMI or other serial numbers against the databases.

The U.K. government has under taken other steps to try and reduce mobile theft. In 2006, an industry-wide charter was implemented by operators in which they agreed to block reported mobiles with 48 hours. The Metropolitan Police also runs the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit.

According to the Metropolitan Police, up to 10,000 mobiles are stolen per month, with two-thirds of the victims between the ages of 13 and 16 years old.

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