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Video: Are wireless companies refusing to stop phone thefts?

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    >>> back now at 7:42. this morning on rossen reports, violent robberies of iphones and other cell phones . authorities claim there is a solution but wireless xeants won't do their part to help. jeff rossen is here to tell us what he found. good morning.

    >> good morning. this is an epidemic. tens of thousands of high-tech phones are stolen every year. yes, it gets violent. many victims are beaten, bruised and hospitalized. there's an easy fix here. a way to stop criminals in their tracks. but the wireless companies are blocking it to protect their own profits. san francisco , this unsuspecting woman is about to get robbed. her iphone ripped from her hands. ft. lauderdale, a thief sucker punches this man, beating him to a pulp. the victim tries to get up, but the robber kicks him down and makes off with his iphone. in los angeles , one of the most brutal robberies caught on camera. a man follows this teenage girl into a lobby to get her phone, punching her over and over again. she fights back.

    >> i really wanted my phone. i worked hard for it. i was in a mode where i was going to hit him until i got my phone back.

    >> reporter: but, he got the phone and is still on the loose. washington d.c. police chief sees it every day. this is a big business for thieves?

    >> it's a huge business, huge business. the after sale market is huge.

    >> reporter: the wireless industry is putting their profit over your safety allowing stolen phones to be reactivated later with a different phone number . yes, that's right. in most cases black market buyers or the thieves themselves can buy service on that phone which means it wireless companies keep making money . what is your message for the wireless companies?

    >> shame on you. it's fixable. it's not all about profit.

    >> reporter: cities are banning together sending this letter to officials. there's an easy solution, a fix that would cut the violent robberies. here is how it would work. every cell phone has a unique id or fingerprint. once it's reported stolen, it's blacklisted in the u.s. wireless companies from verizon to at&t would share information banning service for that phone for all carriers.

    >> it's a brick. there's no profit. when you take the profit away, there's no motivation to stick a gun in somebody's face and take the phone.

    >> reporter: wireless companies won't do it.

    >> it's crazy.

    >> it's a problem. why are we helping them out.

    >> reporter: sprint said they are open for discussion. that's where we went, a spokesman.

    >> the police said it's about money.

    >> well, it's a money loser in a lot of respects.

    >> nearly 70 major police department chiefs say this is the solution, this would cut crime. i, as a consumer say why not try it?

    >> we want to make sure whatever we put in place works and it's effective and comprehensive.

    >> reporter: the technology already exists. they have been doing it in the uk for a decade and traaustralia, too. it's working. smartphone robberies are down. the industry's response. let's wait, it's not worth trying until every country joins in.

    >> let's get mexican service providers , central american , south american , african, chinese.

    >> why not start with the u.s.? why not start here?

    >> the larger problem, the bigger problem is overseas.

    >> reporter: police say americans will keep getting beaten and robbed as long as the wireless industry continues to drag its feet.

    >> there are lives at stake. this is a deadly situation. it needs to be rectified immediately.

    >> reporter: the fcc is investigating this issue just in the nick of time . cell phone thefts continue to grow at an alarming rate. to give you an idea, on the streets, a stolen cell phone goes for more than a vile of pcp. this keeps getting worse. it needs to be fixed. we are going to stay on top of it for you.

    >> sounds like you will. thanks for reporting on this.

By
TODAY
updated 3/22/2012 7:46:12 AM ET 2012-03-22T11:46:12

Violent robberies of iPhones and other smartphones: Authorities say there’s a solution, but the wireless companies won’t do their part to help. TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

Police say it is an epidemic across the country and only getting worse: Tens of thousands of smartphones stolen every year. And yes, it gets violent: Many victims are beaten, bruised and hospitalized. Authorities say there’s an easy fix, a way to stop these criminals in their tracks right now. But, they say, the wireless companies are blocking it — to protect their profits.

Have an idea for Rossen Reports? Email us by clicking here!

Washington, D.C., police chief Cathy Lanier sees it every day: “It’s a huge business, huge business. The after-market resale of these phones ... the profit that they're making is just driving this whole problem.”

And, she said, the wireless industry is putting its own profit over your safety, allowing stolen phones to be reactivated later with a different phone number. Yes, that’s right: In most cases, black market buyers or the thieves themselves can still buy service on that stolen phone.

Police chief Cathy Lanier’s message for the wireless industry: “Shame on you. This is something that is fixable. Why wouldn't you in the name of customer service and safety want to protect your customer? It's not just about profit.”

Now nearly 70 big-city police chiefs are banding together, sending a letter to federal authorities saying that there’s an easy solution — a fix that would cut these violent robberies.

TODAY
Tens of thousands of cell phones are stolen in the U.S. every year — many of them violently.

A brick instead of a phone
Here’s how it works: Every cell phone has its own unique ID, or fingerprint. Once the phone is reported stolen, it would be blacklisted in the U.S. Wireless companies from Verizon to AT&T, T-Mobile to Sprint, would all share information, banning service on that stolen phone on all carriers forever.

“It becomes a brick,” Lanier told us. “It’s useless, so there‘s no profit anymore — and when you take that profit away, then there's no motivation to stick a gun in somebody's face and take their phone.”

But, police say, the wireless companies won’t do it. We reached out to the wireless giants. Sprint said it’s open to discussion. The others simply directed us to an industry spokesman, so that’s where we went.

Rossen put the question to John Walls, vice president, public affairs, for CTIA — The Wireless Association, the trade group for the wireless telecommunications industry in the U.S.: “I'm not an expert in technology, but when I look at a list of nearly 70 major police department chiefs who say, ‘This is the solution; this would cut crime,' I as the consumer say to myself, 'Why not just try it?’ ”

“We want to make sure that whatever we put in place works and it's effective and and it is comprehensive,” Walls said.

“Well, they’re the crime experts,” I said.

“They might be the crime experts, but there's this considerable technical expertise and recognition on the industry side of the fence,” Walls said. “It’s just not that simple.”

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But the technology already exists. They’ve been doing it in the U.K. for a decade, and in Australia, too, where authorities say it’s working; smartphone robberies are down. The industry’s response: Let’s wait: It won’t work here until every country joins in. “Let's make sure we get, for example, Mexican service providers, Central American, South Americatodayn, African, Chinese,” Walls said.

Read more investigative journalism from Rossen Reports

“Why not start with the U.S.?” Rossen asked. “Why not take the first step here?”

“Because I think the larger problem, the bigger problem is overseas,” Walls said.

But police say Americans will keep getting beaten and robbed as long as the wireless industry continues to drag its feet.

When the wireless industry says, ‘Look, we don't think it's going to work’: What's your response to that?” Rossen asked police chief Cathy Lanier.

“I've got police chiefs all the across the country that say it will,” she said. “There are lives at stake here. You know, this is a deadly situation. It needs to be rectified, and it needs to be rectified immediately.”

To read statements in response to this report from spokesmen for the wireless industry, click here .

Have an idea for a future edition of Rossen Reports? We want to hear from you! To send us your ideas, click here.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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