We need new legislation to dismantle phone theft

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If you lost your cell phone purchased from a portion of your monthly salary, or by taking out a salary loan, you would be very angry. Every day, many people in Mongolia experience that anger, because cell phone theft is a rising problem, especially in crowded places where people are hanging out, such as bus stops, schools, stores, hospitals, and nightclubs.

Once you’ve had your phone stolen, you realize how much of your personal information and valuable data a thief has obtained, because everyone uses their phones for everything – work, school, and data. Unfortunately, the valuable information on your stolen phone is not valued, only the phone itself is valued as a thing of worth.

Many people are very careful to avoid pickpockets, especially cell phone thieves, while walking around in crowded places, but they still have their phones stolen. Cell phone thieves use a lot of tricks, and sometimes theives work with partners to steal a phone. Thieves take advantage of moments to take phones when people are walking up the steps of a bus, or distracting a mark by kicking their leg, pretending to accidentally fall into them, or asking them a question to draw their attention elsewhere.

There are a lot of security cameras in stores, schools, and other crowded places, but most of them are not operational, and the footage they capture can be extremely pixelated, making it difficult to recognize faces. Some thieves even know which security cameras are functional or not, and how to hide from the cameras that do work.

Some people install applications on their mobiles that claim to be able to help them catch a cell phone thief and recover their phone, but in Mongolia, when thieves are caught, it is very rarely a result of using applications. Many people cannot fully take advantage of how these applications work with limited internet access, and some thieves know how to disable these apps. Once you know that you’ve lost your phone, you need to file a claim at a police station close to where you believe your phone was stolen.

When filing a claim, police ask the property assessment office in the district to determine how much a phone is worth. Many people find that the office sets the value of phones very low. If the value of your phone is set at 260,000 MNT or more, and you know the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) number for your mobile phone, you may be able to find your phone, but getting your phone valued at over 260,000 MNT is the first challenge. For phones that are valued at 260,000 MNT or more, Mobicom, Skytel, Unitel, and G-Mobile allows subscribers to search who is using a phone with a specific IMEI number.

Many countries have been adopting the use of the IMEI to reduce cell phone theft. Mongolian service providers and law enforcement have acknowledged the importance of IMEI numbers to combat theft, but only use it to help a few people recover their phones. According to the Criminal Code, prosecutors have the authority to issue permission for IMEI data to be used to recover stolen phones valued at 260,000 MNT or more.

If prosecutors allowed mobile subscribers to use IMEI numbers to recover all stolen smart phones, maybe thieves would stop stealing them. We cannot eliminate cell phone theft under the current Criminal Code, so addressing it in the bill on misdemeanors (which will be reviewed by Parliament soon) could reduce the number of cell phone thefts.

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