Mobile phone crime

Mobile phones

According to the 2007–08 British Crime Survey, 78% of people in the UK own a mobile phone.

Mobile theft is a serious and costly problem in the UK and this can only increase with the proliferation of mobile commerce, or m-commerce, where phones are used to transfer money or pay for shopping.

As recently as a decade ago, mobile phones could only just about manage to store text messages and contact books. Where once we could only talk and text on the move, we can now play games, make and share videos and carry whole music libraries on our small personal gadgets. The latest smartphones incorporate GPS, Wi-Fi connectivity and motion sensors, they are also able to automatically download emails and appointments for office computers. Today, phones are being used to make payments, travel and do banking, even internationally.

According to the UK fraud prevention service Cifas, mobile phone identity fraud saw a 74% in the first half of 2009 and it is thought that this may represent only a fraction of the true scale of the problem.


Mobile phone in chainsMobile phone security is a huge challenge both for operators and consumers, and as technology has advanced it has become even more important that what is stored on a mobile phone cannot be accessed by anyone else.

How can designers and technologists work together to develop new products, systems and services that address the problem of mobile phone theft? What will these new solutions look like? At the heart of any solution should be a clear indication of how it will be used by people in their day-to-day lives. Any solution should be easily adopted by the general public, and as such should be fundamentally based on both advances in technology and user-centred design.

Thieves change tactics

Mobile phone companies and designers are always fighting to stay one step ahead of criminals. Companies brought in a new identification system in 2002 to try to stop phone theft. But it is thought many criminals have simply switched tactics. Instead of trying to sell stolen phones in the UK, they now export them to other countries for a fraction of their market value.

Phones of the future

It is estimated that soon handsets could keep tabs on an individual’s health, pay their bills and more. Though such developments should bring many benefits to people’s lives, security is expected to become more of a problem. To counter this, manufacturers are developing more secure ways of encrypting data on handsets.


  • Making mobile phone handsets harder or less desirable to steal
  • Making the data stored on mobile phones harder or less desirable to steal
  • Making future m-commerce transaction secure and fraud proof.

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