Cell Phones Stolen During the London Riots Will Be Blocked

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Cell phones stolen during the London riots will be blocked by major cell networks, according to several news outlets. It’s an intriguing idea, but will it actually stop thieves from pilfering their wares?

Here’s how the system will work: Store owners will be able to report stolen phones to their appropriate carriers, as each handset comes hardwired with its own IMEI number for identification. The devices will then be added to the Equipment Identity Register (EIR) and blocked within 24-hours, even if the phones receive new SIM cards.

(PHOTOS: See Photos of the London riots)

From there, the carriers will submit their EIR lists to the Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR), which will stop the phones from working on any of the major U.K. networks within 48 hours.

As Macworld points out, while it’s possible to detach phones from their IMEI numbers with special equipment, the cost of doing so would eat into a peddler’s profits at £30 per phone (around $48 stateside). Factor in the time required, and the value proposition for enterprising thieves becomes even less attractive.

The downside, however, is that many will likely try to pass their stolen devices down to unsuspecting customers before they’re shut down indefinitely, so it’s best for honest consumers to exercise extreme caution when buying used products in the near future, if at all. Plus, there’s also the risk of unblocked handsets leading police straight to a user’s place of residence, which makes for a sticky situation all around.

(PHOTOS: The Riot Photo That Has the World Buzzing)

Thieves can also try to sell the devices internationally, where they can perhaps be reactivated over Europe’s GSM networks. But at that point the phones could reportedly only be worth up to one-twentieth their original value after trading hands. For now, it’s probably best to hold off on buying a used cell phone unless you know exactly where it came from.

Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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