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Protect your identity: theft of smart phones are an epidemic

DENVER — AT&T is setting up a new system to make sure your stolen smart phone doesn’t make its way on to the black market.

But despite that move, security experts say it may not do much to help.

The problem is, the mobile devices are so smart and worth hundreds of dollars on the black market.

 A person can go online and quickly find ways around the security systems being offered by major carriers right now.

 Each phone has a unique identifier number built right in for example.

 And for a price, that number can be easily changed.

“If anybody in my office would have picked it up they would have given it back to me,” said Cindy Menon, who had her phone stolen while working in a DTC office building.  

 Menon became the victim of one of the fastest growing crimes in Colorado: Theft of mobile devices like tablets and smart phones.

“You have everything on there from your contacts, your calendar, your email, your phone. Everything in your life is inside the phone,” Cindy Menon said.

 Greenwood Village and Denver police traced Cindy’s phone using her iphone tracking app.

They arrested an illegal immigrant named Luis Mena-Muro, who worked as a janitor in Menon’s building.

“It was undeniable that it was my phone,” Menon said after police recovered the phone and made the arrest. 

But few stolen devices are ever recovered.

“In other places they do bring a lot of money,” said Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson. “And it’s like anything else. A criminal is an opportunist and they’re going to do what’s easy to maybe make a few bucks.”

 In fact, half the robberies in major cities this year targeted smart phones.

 They’re worth hundreds on a growing black market at home and overseas.

“You can take a phone they really don’t ask you where you got it from or how you got it or anything of the nature,” said cyber security consultant Charles Tendell. “They get you know commission from which every major carrier they end up putting you on.” 

 Now AT&T says it’s creating a database similar to one already offered by Verizon and Sprint to block stolen devices that are reported stolen.

 The problem is the system is self-policing.

 Security experts say it’s easy for small operators to change the stolen phone’s identifier number, no questions asked.

“There’s a lot of money be made here and again it’s just too little too late,” said Tendell.

The latest move by a major carrier is still called a band-aid approach by many computer experts who say criminals will continue finding ways around any stolen database.

 In April police and the federal communications commission announced the major carriers will develop a unified database to be shared by all companies.

They set a goal of 18 months to have that online.

But it’s still anyone’s guess when it might be up and running.

Computer experts say it likely won’t stop criminals from working around it and cashing in on a lucrative market.

Best advice at this point: keep a close eye and good security on that mobile device.