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Canada's cellphone blacklist frustrates thieves

Sneaky ne'er-do-wells are even calling the association that represents wireless carriers with 'fantastic stories' as they try to get a phone off the blacklist.

There were 21,061 fewer cellphones reported stolen in 2015 than in 2014

Thieves are trying to find a way around the cellphone industry's stolen phone blacklist. It prevents stolen or lost phones from working on Canadian wireless networks. (Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)

Thieves are hunting for ways to get around Canada's cellphone blacklist, a database that prevents stolen phones from accessing Canadian networks.  

The blacklist was started in 2013 by Canadian wireless carriers in an attempt to curb cellphone theft. It means any phone reported stolen or lost in Canada is uploaded to an international database and cannot be reactivated on a Canadian network.

That's apparently cutting into the business of thieves looking to sell phones stolen from stores, warehouses or individuals. 

Some have so much gall, they are even calling the association that represents wireless service providers and companies that develop products for the cellphone industry in an attempt to get a device delisted.  

"Sometimes we'll hear just fantastic stories about how this particular smartphone came into their possession, and how can they get it off the blacklist?" said Mark Choma, vice president of communications for the Canadian Wireless and Telecommunications Association. 

"We ask them for the details and obviously there's always something in those details that just doesn't add up. They can always contact the carrier to discuss it, but the carrier has records of how, when, and you know why that device was added to the blacklist."

Blacklist makes stolen cellphones useless

Cellphone carriers have the entire history of a phone, according to Choma, and if it doesn't match up with what a caller says, then the phone stays on the blacklist.   

Choma said thieves completely miss the mark by calling CWTA to begin with, since only carriers can remove a phone from the list. 

The association keeps track of the number of lost and stolen cellphones across the country. In 2015, the number reported stolen dropped to 120,031, 21,061 fewer than the year before, although still a tad higher than in 2013.  

Choma said he believes last year's drop from the year before is due in part to the blacklist and people being more cautious with their devices. 

The association also gets calls a couple of times a week from consumers it feels have been duped into buying stolen cellphones. Unfortunately those people are saddled with an unusable device, said Choma.

"If you are looking for a used device, make sure that it is from a trusted source," he said. "We always recommend friends and family." 

Choma said before someone buys a used cellphone they should check protectyourdata.ca. It contains a record of stolen cellphones.        

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