YOUNGSTOWN - In an effort to prevent the reselling of stolen cell phones and other crimes, like identity theft, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would make it a federal crime to alter cell phone identity numbers of memory chips.
The new bill would put into place a maximum jail sentence of five years for criminals who tamper with subscriber identity modules, often called SIM cards or the cell phone's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number - done by tech savvy criminals to avoid police tracking of stolen phones and to side step a database that lets stolen phones be deactivated.
IMEI numbers, comparable to a vehicle identification number, is a number unique to the cell phone that distinguishes it from other phones on a cellular network.
''If that is altered by the criminal, tracking of the phone becomes substantially more difficult and the victim is far less likely to get their property back,'' said Youngstown police Capt. Jason Simon.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is co-sponsoring the bill he says provides an enhancement to laws already in the books and gives law enforcement ''one additional tool'' to fight crime.
Brown, a Democrat, was in Youngstown at the police department Monday to promote the bill, the Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act of 2013.
He said the legislation will ''crack down'' on the theft of cell phones and impose ''severe consequences'' on thieves who target cell phones.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly all American adults have a cell phone and more than half have some sort of smartphone like Android, iPhone or Blackberry.
The inconvenience and cost to replace a cell phone can be significant, as is the fear of additional crime that might be committed by criminals having access to personal email accounts and other private information that could lend itself to identity theft, Brown said.
Cassie Mosure-Oles of Canfield had her cell phone stolen last year while cheerleading for Youngstown State at Beeghly Center.
''It was just such an inconvenience and it was a horrible thing to experience,'' said Mosure-Oles, who said her phone was taken from her gym bag. ''I would never want anyone else to go through that.''