Smart phone theft, an all-too-common crime that can turn violent, may seem like one of those problems we just have to live with. But that\u2019s not really true. A technology that\u2019s already in place could sharply reduce the value of stolen mobile devices and reduce the incentive to steal them.\n\tBut with the exception of Sprint, the major U.S. carriers refuse to even consider a simple step that would protect their customers, despite pleas from dozens of big city police chiefs.\n\tFirst a bit of background: You probably know that almost all mobile phones contain a SIM card, a small, removable circuit board containing the phone\u2019s ID, its address book and so on. The card tells the carrier that the phone is registered on its network. If say, you want to give your phone to someone else, all they have to do is replace the SIM card and then register the phone with a compatible carrier. Many people in Europe have SIM cards from carriers in other countries, so when they travel, they simply pop in the appropriate card.\n\tUnfortunately, thieves know that too. When they steal a phone they do the same thing, and wind up with a working phone to use or sell. If the SIM card was the only identifier a carrier could read, there wouldn\u2019t be much of a technology fix available.\n\n\tCheck Forgery: It Can Happen to You\n\tSmartphone Theft Starts Early\n\n\tHowever, nearly every mobile phone has another signature: the International Mobile Equipment Identity or IMEI number. Older phones had something similar called the ESN. One of those numbers is embedded in the circuitry of the phone and it\u2019s still there whether the original SIM card is in place or not. On many phones you can see the IMEI identifier by typing\u00a0 *#06#. When a phone is registered on a carrier\u2019s network, the carrier sees that number as well.\n\tIf the carrier knew that the number belonged to a stolen phone, it could simply refuse to allow it on its network, an action that would "brick" the phone, that is, make it useless. But since the carriers don\u2019t track IMEI numbers, they don\u2019t know if a phone has been stolen or not. If they wanted to, they could create a database and check it when a request comes in to activate a new phone.\n\tThis is exactly what the police chiefs, through an organization called Major Cities Chief\u2019s, have asked for, and they\u2019re gaining support. California Senator Barbara Boxer supports their plan, and notes that carriers in Australia and the United Kingdom already have similar safeguards in place. \u00a0(You can read the statement of the police chiefs).\n\tSo what's the problem? As far as I can tell, the first news organization to pick up on the police chiefs' concern was NBC, which aired a piece on the issue last week.\n\tAnd here's the response their reporter got from the carriers. Sprint said it is already bricking phones when a customer reports them stolen, and is open to discussing the formation of a shared national database of ESN and IMEI numbers. The other major carriers, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T, expressed no such willingness. And a spokesman for the CTIA, which represents most members of the wireless industry, offered the exceedingly lame response that it was a good idea, but it shouldn\u2019t be implemented until other countries, such as Mexico and China do the same. In other words, forget about it.\n\tI don\u2019t know why the carriers are saying no to this. Maybe it would cost too much to implement the database, or it wouldn't work for some reason neither the police chiefs nor I are aware of. But they didn\u2019t say that.\n\tIf one were to be cynical, you might think the reason was that a stolen phone with a new SIM card equals more business for the carrier, plus the additional revenue of selling a new phone to the original victim of the theft. I\u2019d hate to think that, but given the crummy, anti-consumer attitudes we\u2019ve seen from the carriers over many years, it\u2019s not all that hard to imagine.\n\tThere's one step you can take. Write down the IMEI number of your phone and call it in to your carrier if your device is lost or stolen. If they don\u2019t promise to brick it, give them an earful and complain to your Senator or Representative. No one should risk a beating from a cell phone thief because a carrier wants to make a few extra bucks.