East London shops openly deal in stolen smartphones

East London is home to a stolen smartphone black market after an undercover investigation found shops and sellers openly willing to deal in the devices.

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BBC London found as many as eight shops willing to deal in the devices knowing full well that they were stolen and even hinting at how the researcher could avoid detection.

It managed to film two of the traders that were willing to buy smartphones, namely the Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 4, from a BBC researcher that visited the East London shops in question.

The investigation started with eight used smartphones being acquired by lawful means and being blocked and reported as stolen to the networks. Each device was then offered to a number of shops for sale and would have a message on the screen reading: "This mobile has been stolen. This phone has now been locked. You have been reported to the authorities."

One outlet involved was London Mobiles in Ilford, where the seller clearly stated, “I not buy, I steal, yeah?”

Knowing this was the case the employee looked at the device and when the above locked message was on the screen he laughed and said, “It’s stolen. It’s very dangerous,” and then handed over cash for the device.

In nearby Seven Kings, the researcher managed to sell four “stolen” phones to Ask Mobiles and Computers with the deal being closed outside the store for £40.

This store was where the researcher was told to turn the device off as “they can track you” and then advised that they have a SIM card inside and that he should “throw away the SIM.”

All the phones sold by the researcher had “find-my-phone” style blocks activated as well as IMEI numbers that had been reported and this in essence meant the devices were unusable. This, according to Grant Roughley of Essential Forensics, is incredibly easy to bypass though.

"Just a few mouse clicks and the phone is turned from a paperweight back to a useable device again,” said Roughley. "A phone stolen this morning could be back on the streets by this afternoon, packaged up as a second hand legitimate phone."

Roughley added that smartphones could easily be redesigned to place the IMEI number in a “read-only” part of the phone, though manufacturers have so far been lukewarm to doing so.

Related: A guide to keeping your Android smartphone or iPhone safe

Over the past 12 months in London the number of phones taken in thefts has actually dropped by 12 per cent to 30,430 with 13,724 phones taken in robberies, which equates to around 80 a day being stolen.