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Stolen Cell Phone Database Aims to Thwart Smartphone Thieves

If your cell phone is stolen, who ya gonna call? The answer may soon involve a new nationwide database that the FCC hopes will cut down on cell phone thefts.

America's "big four" wireless carriers -- AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint -- are joining forces to create a combined national database of stolen cell phones, ZDNet reports. The participating wireless carriers cover about 90% of U.S. cell phone subscribers, according to the Associated Press.

Here's how the database, called the PROTECTS Initiative, will work:

When a cell phone is stolen, an owner will be able to report the theft to their wireless carrier. The carrier will then "lock" the phone, using the phone's unique cell phone ID, so it can't be used again, according to ZDNet.

The FCC is helping wireless companies set up their databases. Each carrier's database should be up and running within six months; it's hoped the databases will be centralized within 18 months.

For those concerned about privacy, the database will store only a cell phone's ID number. Consumers' personal information will not be stored, ZDNet reports.

"Locking" stolen cell phones renders them useless for resale, and should help thwart the rising tide of smartphone thefts, PC Magazine reports. About 40% of robberies in New York City and Washington, D.C., among other cities, are now related to cell phones, the FCC's chairman said in announcing the PROTECTS Initiative.

A nationwide stolen cell phone database is new for the United States, but it's been successfully implemented in the UK and Australia, ZDNet reports. The UK's system has been up and running for two years.

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