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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Curbs Proposed on Used Phone Sales

VedomostiNew police figures say women and children are five times more likely than men to have their mobile phone stolen.
The government is proposing tougher curbs on the sale of mobile phones as a new report shows that stealing handsets has become the country's top economic crime.

"The Interior Ministry has proposed that used handsets must only be bought and sold in a few selected shops or retail outlets," a spokesman for the ministry's crime department, who refused to give his name in line with official policy, said Thursday. "Because of the gravity of the situation, the crime department believes those selling used handsets must produce receipts and instructions for them."

The official would not say to whom the proposals were submitted, but he did say "relevant authorities" were in possession of them and were giving them "due consideration." He said the police also wanted every transaction involving handsets to be registered and fines imposed on individuals or retailers who bought used handsets without the necessary documentation.

In the past, investigators argued that such measures would stem the crime rate, adding that thieves were mainly attracted to handsets because they could sell them so easily.

Russia's homegrown solution would be more effective than one used in Britain, the spokesman said. British police have teamed up with the cell phone industry to create a national database of stolen phones. Once reported, a phone is blocked from all networks nationwide.

About 250,000 handsets were reported stolen in Russia last year, but officials estimate that the real figure was twice that, with teenagers in particular falling prey to mobile phone theft, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported last week.

One in every five crimes committed is related to mobile phones, the newspaper quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying. The crime is on the rise, he said, adding that 160,000 cases of stolen handsets were registered in the first half of this year alone. "The latest Interior Ministry statistics are based on crimes reported to the police, while the actual figures could be much higher," the spokesman said of the numbers, which also indicate that women and children are five times more likely to become victims of mobile phone theft than men.

"These groups are more vulnerable because they are more likely to show off their handsets and it is also easier to snatch handsets from them," the spokesman said. "In our country, there are also sleek, top-of-the-line models that are often studded with expensive gems. These are magnets for thieves."

In recent years, he said, mobile phone theft has become more dangerous, as thieves are more unscrupulous about killing their victims. The only way to stop this trend is to outlaw the sale and purchase of used handsets, he said.

Officials said drug addicts in need of a quick fix and unemployed immigrants often saw cell phone theft as the only solution to their problems, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.

Hot spots for mobile phone theft are usually bus stops, train stations, traffic lights and sidewalks. Police said children or students who love to display their handsets while listening to music or simply talking were also potential targets.

Mobile phone operators have said they had no ready solution to the problem. "Cell phones are the latest favorite for pickpockets," said VimpelCom spokeswoman Ksenia Korneyeva. "Every day, lots of people come to our office to complain."