Acting upon instructions from higher officials, Greater Chennai Police is in the process of recovering as many stolen or lost mobile phones as possible and returning them to the actual owners with the help of network providers, provided an official complaint was registered regarding the lost phone.
Vinith (name changed), a Bengaluru-based businessman lost his iPhone X when he visited Chennai to attend a funeral on October 2. After checking with his relatives, Vinith lodged a complaint at TP Chathram police station on October 21 and the police traced the phone within two days. Probe revealed that one of his relative’s son, a minor, had taken the phone. Vinith got his phone back and withdrew his complaint. “I never thought I would get my phone back. Police action was swift and they managed to gather all the details even though only one call had been made from the phone on October 3. It had remained switched off,” Vinith said.
While Valasaravakkam police in T Nagar police district recently traced 45 lost mobile phones and returned them to the complainants, 50 mobile phones were seized from notorious shops in Pulianthope district in the last few months. Adyar district police have just received the locations of over 500 lost mobile phones from a particular network provider. “They will be traced and retrieved even if they are found in possession of some other person in another state,” said a sub-inspector, who is part of the team in Valasaravakkam range.
Deputy Commissioners of each police district in the city have appointed a team led by a sub-inspector for this purpose specifically, as ordered by Commissioner AK Viswanathan. Details of all lost mobile phones in each district including the IMEI number have been shared with network operators such as Airtel, Vodafone and Jio and whereabouts of those phones have been sought. “We recently held a meeting with all network providers and conveyed the difficulties we face at our end and they have extended their support to deal with such crimes,” said a Deputy Commissioner.
Kilpauk Deputy Commissioner S Rajendran said they have retrieved 40 mobile phones in a similar way and are trying to locate 200 more with the help of network providers. Some of the missing phones have been located in Kerala, West Bengal and Odisha. Though police have approached network providers in the past, the request was not followed-up properly. “Usually, an IMEI number will remain a tracker device only for a particular period. In this special drive, we keep giving the IMEI numbers of untraced mobile phones so that whenever it gets switched on, they get the alerts,” he added.
Police seek extended safety feature to track stolen phones
While pursuing the leads as they were probing the innumerable cases of mobile phone theft, police officers found that the stolen handsets were pushed into the second-hand market, eventually ending up in far off places including other states.
Officers said most of the lost phones go to the used phones market where shop owners do necessary modifications and sell them to gullible customers.
“Of the 45 phones we retrieved, some had been passed on to other states and the buyer had no idea that they were using a stolen phone. We had to explain it to them to make them part with the phones. The third person who is in no way involved in the theft loses his money. So I would suggest people not to buy used phones from unauthorised sellers. Most of these shops receive old phones from unknown persons without any receipt. They reset the phone and sell it. We have warned them not to do so,” said a sub-inspector.
Another Deputy Commissioner who spoke to DT Next said that they have classified cases of lost phones into different sections such as robbed, lost and stolen. “If we find a pattern during the process of recovery, we will arrest the people involved. For example, if many lost phones were sold from a particular shop, the shop owner will be arrested,” said the official.
In Pulianthope district, traditional methods of policing such as tightened vehicle check and follow-up on history-sheeters have led to a number of recoveries in the past. “If we apprehend one offender, through him, we arrest others involved in such crimes and seize mobile phones in their possession. If the stolen phone is very old where the owners do not know the IMEI number, then we coordinate with network providers to get those details. It is a complex process and we are doing our best,” said the official.
Police are of the opinion that an extended safety feature to track them, even if they are switched off will bring down cellphone thefts to a great extent. “Mobile phone offenders mostly do not target high-end phones like iPhones because of their safety features. If all the phones have similar safety features, it will act as a deterrent to those who try to sell stolen mobile phones,” said a senior officer.