IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) is a 15-digit serial number encoded inside a cell phone that was of critical help in locating a lost or stolen cell phone .
The Flasher is a small device that connects the phone to the computer and helps the user change the IMEI number of the handset. After the IMEI number is changed, it is next to impossible to locate that phone, said Malikarjun Malle, a cyber security expert at the Cyber police station in Bandra Kurla Complex.
The police said that the domino effect has been observed in the disposal of cell phones. While stolen cell phones were earlier dismantled and stolen as spare parts, cell phone thieves can now sell stolen cell phones in their entirety at a better price after changing the IMEI number.
Prior to the use of Flashers, thieves, after stealing the phones, would first throw away the original SIM card in the phone and then either sell the individual parts of the phone after dismantling it or sell the whole mobile instrument in another district or state, since a service provider could block a particular IMIE in that territory. The use of Flashers has rendered all these precautions unnecessary, said officers.
The use of Flashers in cell phone thefts first came to light in March this year, when the Crime branch arrested three persons who were allegedly involved in changing IMEI numbers of stolen cellphones, after which they would sell the cellphones. The police had recovered 16 flashers from them. The arrested told us that they purchased the devices from a person near the Mumbai Central railway station, said senior inspector Deepak Phatangare.
The police is now reworking its entire strategy of tackling cellphone thefts, devising methods to flush out people who possess Flashers.
We send dummy customers to cellphone repair stores, who tell technicians that they need the IMEI numbers of their cellphones changed due to technical issues. A technician who does not have a Flasher will tell the customer flat out that it cant be done. If a technician says it is possible to change the IMEI number, we have a suspect, said an officer. Officers said Flashers are mainly manufactured in China and that the starting price is Rs 10,000. The devices can be found in black markets in the city.
Due to its availability at reasonable prices, the demand for Flashers has gone up. There is no other known way to tamper with the IMEI number, Malle added.
Cyber experts believe there are many holes that the service providers need to plug and because they primarily do not police the crucial IMEI numbers, the thieves have taken advantage.
The police cannot do much in such a situation, since the service providers themselves cant do much. The service providers dont check the validity of a mobile phones IMEI numbers. They cant spot the numbers that are bogus as there is no method devised by them to identify it, said cyber security expert, Vijay Mukhi.