Brown proposes increased cellphone theft penalty

By Burton Speakman


With more people relying on their cellphones to maintain all their personal information, the risk of additional crimes when they are stolen has increased.

A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would create mandatory prison sentences for those who steal a cellular phone and alter its International Mobile Equipment Identity number. These numbers allow law enforcement to track individual cellular devices, said Capt. Jason Simon of the Youngstown Police Department. They identify each phone.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, introduced the bill after talking to law-enforcement officials throughout the state who are complaining about the increasing number of stolen cellphones and the growing costs of such thefts. Brown was at the Youngstown Police Department on Monday to promote the bill.

About 90 percent of people in the U.S. carry a cellphone, and about half of those are smartphones, Brown said.

“The cost of this kind of theft is significant,” he said.

The frequency of cellphone theft is increasing, Brown said.

“At the Youngstown Police Department, we see hundreds of cases each year,” Simon said. “Occasionally, we are able to recover a stolen cellphone [using tracking].”

Any type of alteration to the IMEI number makes the phone impossible to track, he said.

For the victim, a lot of time and money goes into replacing the phone and its contents, Simon said. Cellphone theft under Ohio law is a misdemeanor.

The federal bill, if passed, would enhance cellphone-theft crimes in which the IMEI has been changed. This would be similar to how violent-crime sentences are enhanced when a gun is used to commit the crime, Brown said.

Having a phone stolen is a horrible situation because of all the personal information that people keep on their phones, said Cassie Mosure-Oles, a recent Youngstown State graduate who had her phone stolen while cheerleading at a Penguins game at the Beeghly Center.

“I had to pay a lot more to get a new phone, and typically, it’s really easy to transfer numbers. But because my phone was stolen, I had to email people to get all their contact information and enter it,” Mosure-Oles said.

Criminals who alter the IMEI number are more likely to commit other crimes such as identity theft using the personal information from the cellphone, Brown said.

“This bill will provide another tool for law enforcement to protect the public,” he said.

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