Tracking Your Stolen Smartphone Could Be Tougher Than Ever! Some Basic Precautions To Follow

IMEI numbers are no longer safe!


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There was a time, when the IMEI number of your mobile phone could help the police track it down, if it got lost or stolen. But, the IMEI numbers are on longer safe, and can now be altered with some easily available black market tools.

After stealing your mobile phone, crooks now can change the IMEI number and re-sell it in the market as a totally different mobile phone. The bigger concern here is that the tools to do so are easily available in the black market.

How IMEI Helps Trace A Stolen Mobile Phone?

IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), is a 15 digit unique number associated with each and every mobile phone ever made. It is different for every phone, and hence every handset has a unique identity number. This number was considered tamper-proof up until now. Law enforcement could easily trace the lost or stolen mobile phone with the help of the IMEI number.

What Has Changed Now?

As per an insider, IMEI number is not the invulnerable deterrent that it seems to be. A device called a flasher, resembling a regular Wi-Fi router can be used to connect the mobile phone to a PC and the digits in the IMEI number can be altered. All it requires is some technical knowhow and access to these hacking tools. It is a scary thought indeed!

After the IMEI is replaced with another unique number, the origin of the lost mobile phone can never be traced. However, this means there can be two or more mobile phones with the same IMEI number in circulation. As per the reports, the unscrupulous operators charge around Rs. 200-500 per device to alter the IMEI number. The flasher reportedly costs around Rs. 2,000 – Rs. 5,000 in the black market.

Mediatek Easier To Tamper Than Qualcomm?

Apparently, the IMEI numbers in devices which run low cost Mediatek processors are easier to alter as compared to the devices which carry Qualcomm processors. Qualcomm phones are harder to crack, though not impossible. But, altering the IMEI number of an Apple handset is impossible, as flashers don’t work with iPhones. But stolen iPhones are stripped down and sold for parts anyways. IMEI number doesn’t matter in that case.

Rackets Busted

The Delhi Police have recently busted such modules which are involved in the altering of IMEI numbers of high end phones in NCR. Back in February this year, eight men were caught with stolen 735 phones worth Rs. 1.3 crores – All with all their IMEI numbers altered.

In another case, the Delhi Crime Branch busted another gang, who were running an illegal iPhone workshop near Karol Bagh. They were caught with 409 iPhones, 18 iPads and several dismantled devices, all likely to be worth nearly Rs. 1 crore.

Is A Stolen Phone Unrecoverable Now?

Very rarely does it happen that the IMEI number of a stolen phone remains intact after the fact, and police are able to trace a stolen device and return it to the original owner. Police maintain a database of the stolen devices, and feed the IMEI numbers of the phones that they retrieve into the database. Without an IMEI number, it is practically not possible to trace a  stolen device. So effectively, the chances of getting back a stolen mobile phone are highly improbable in this age of easily available hacking tools.

What Precautions Can I Take?

You can take some basic precautions from your end to ensure that even if your device gets stolen, your data remains intact.

  • Always put a lock on your smartphone. No matter how inconvenient if feels in daily usage, a strong password will ensure that your sensitive and personal data never falls in the wrong hands.
  • Never keep personal information such as bank account numbers or other passwords in your smartphone in clear text. Instead use digital vaults and password managers which are easily available in the Play Store. That way you have to remember only one master password.
  • Be sure to activate the mobile tracking feature in your smartphone. As long as the smartphone remains active, you can track it through Google’s tracking service. If you feel that the chances of getting back your phone are impossible, you can remotely wipe all your smartphone data to ensure its integrity.
  • Most importantly, do not try to go after the stolen smartphone by yourself. There’s no telling what danger you could be walking into. Leave that task to law enforcement who are equipped to deal with such situations.
  • Lastly, take care while using your smartphone in public. There are always some miscreants looking to relieve you of your phone, so be aware of your surroundings.

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