Why don't carriers want a 'kill switch' for stolen phones?

Preventing Smartphone Theft

One of the best ways to prevent smartphone theft is to keep an alert hand on the device at all times. Don't loosely hold your smartphone as you lollygag down the sidewalk. Keep a firm grip and keep it close to your body. Better yet, leave it concealed in an interior pocket. This way, you can avoid a seasoned smartphone thief's most popular tactic: Slapping a victim on the back of the head, sending the smartphone flying into the air and snatching it before it hits the ground.

In case of theft, you'll want to know your smartphone's serial number and model number. Both are usually listed under the "settings" tab or imprinted on the back of the device. Importantly, smartphones also have a unique device identification number, known as an International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI).

The IMEI is a 15- to 17-digit numerical code assigned to each smartphone by manufacturers. It allows carriers to remotely disable your smartphone when you contact them [source: MPDC].

The carrier can also enter your smartphone's IMEI into a national database that tracks stolen smartphones. All major carriers in the U.S. participate in this database, as do a few international carriers. This database feeds into the Global System for Mobile (GSM) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service networks [source: Rouse].

To learn your smartphone's IMEI, dial *#06# and the number will appear on the screen. If your phone is an older model, this may not work. However, you can also turn your phone off, remove the battery and record the IMEI under the label. Be sure to keep the information in a different location than your smartphone [source: Wollan].

You should also install a tracking app. For iPhones, you can try Apple's Find My iPhone. Or, if you have iOS 7 installed on your iPhone, you can remotely launch Activation Lock if your phone is stolen. This technology prevents thieves from erasing your phone's data or disabling location apps. It also prevents thieves from restoring or reactivating your smartphone [source: Friedman]. For Android smartphones, there are several third-party apps including Where's My Droid and Lookout [source: Wollan].

If your smart phone is stolen, call the police and give them the serial and IMEI numbers and any locations identified by your phone's tracking app.

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