Police mobile phone sting fails when.. err.. no handsets stolen

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Mobile

Police station. Image from ShutterstockBritish police decided to target mobile phone thieves in the Sussex towns of Hastings and St Leonards, and came up with what they imagined was an ingenious plan.

The police decided to initiate "Operation Mobli", where plain clothes officers deliberately left "bait" phones embedded with tracking devices in nine pubs and bars across the towns of Hastings and St Leonards in Sussex.

Crafty, eh?

There was only one problem.

None of the mobile phones were taken by thieves.

In fact, nearly all of them were spotted by honest customers and handed in to door staff and bar management.

As a sting to catch phone thieves "Operation Mobli" may have failed. But, as Sgt Ché Donald described it in a news release, as "an excellent result and my faith has been restored as the phones were honestly handed in."

Sussex Police recommend that members of the public register their mobile phones and other property
for free on the national property database, at www.immobilise.com, which helps officers reunite stolen items with their proper owners.

You see. There *are* good, honest, decent people out there. Not every news story has to be further evidence of how things are going down the plughole.

This is the third "good news" security headline we've heard in the last few days.

As reported in our latest podcast, it didn't really matter that the electoral commission in Ontario lost USB memory sticks containing the details of 2.4 million voters because (shock!) the data had actually been encrypted!

And people were agog when they read that a worker had found a mystery USB thumb drive in his company's parking lot, and took it straight to the IT department rather than plugging it into his computer.

Will stories about security working, and things not going wrong, be a theme for the rest of 2012?

Sadly, I wouldn't bank on it. But here's hoping..

Police station lantern/a> image, courtesy of Shutterstock.

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14 Responses to Police mobile phone sting fails when.. err.. no handsets stolen

  1. Guse · 1171 days ago

    Wow. It's nice to know that we're not the only ones with police with moronic ideas.

  2. BBrother · 1171 days ago

    I bet they were leaving some old Nokias

    • AJH - Finland · 1168 days ago

      - So you imply that the phones would have disappeared, in case they´d been older iPhones or Samsungs, e.g ?
      But what if they actually were.. ?:P

  3. Cory Emanuel · 1171 days ago

    Any result in the other direction, i would call entrapment before theft.

    • Same here. It would be so easy for a suspected thief to say "I was taking it to the police station" or some other excuse and suddenly the cops are in a lot of trouble. I don't see the point of opening themselves up to that for the sake of catching a few people picking up phones the police felt like leaving around. What does that achieve? Puts a few kleptomaniacs in overcrowded jails?

  4. Mark · 1171 days ago

    don't they have entrapmenet laws in the UK? That seems like a classic case to me.

    I wouldn't even know what to do with a phone I found other than turn it in. They all have id's and configurations licensed/assigned to a specific person. Phone calls are tracked/logged. You would have to have a dishonest phone company willing to assign a stolen phone over to your use and how many people have access to something like that?

  5. GoMay · 1170 days ago

    If you think about it would it really be theft if someone just left the phone there? That's no different from leaving finding a 20 dollar bill on the ground in a park are you going to run around like "OH UMM IS THIS YOURS " to random people NO you're going to go LUCKYYYYY found a 20

  6. Meanwhile, in another part of the world: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/07/its-le...

    I find that somewhat ironic. Hopefully police in other places will try the bait phone test too; I'd like to see how much of the world still has respect for other people's property (my guess is: quite a lot of it).

  7. Wouldn't that be entrapment?

  8. Mark · 1170 days ago

    "Will stories about security working, and things not going wrong, be a theme for the rest of 2012?"

    You'll be out of a job if it is! ;-)

  9. Internaut · 1169 days ago

    There should be a similar 'sting-type ' setup to test the Police and their integrity and honesty. The only tool the public has are cell phones and YouTube :) and it is full of dishonest police without integrity. It's a two way street.

    But on the flip side, it is is good news - at least someone finding a cell and not turning it in isn't wasting the taxpayers money who foot the bill to put the finder through court and into jail. It was a waste of resources examining the public's honesty thgrough random testing.

    Be cheaper if there were a few signs around near exits "Got yer Cell?"

  10. 4caster · 1167 days ago

    Have Sussex police nothing better to do? Obviously there are too many of them.
    In answer to GoMay who would like to keep $20 that he found in a park, I would keep it if I had no idea whose it was, rather than go to a lot of trouble to find the owner of such a small sum. But if I'd seen someone resting in that spot only a few moments earlier, I would chase after him or her. If it were $100, or a phone, I would hand it in to a Lost Property office or the police. I would expect them to tell me if it had been claimed within a reasonable period, and would expect it to be mine if it had not been claimed.

  11. Shiny317@hotmail.com · 1158 days ago

    Hate to spoil the normal good honest nature of the average british public, but soon as I read the article I thought.. of course the phones weren't stolen, the real theives around stole good quality phones in the London riots..and TV's and trainers, and clothes..and..and...

    Maybe thats just the cynic in me :p

    Joe Public here tends to hand it in because..well someone may have lost it

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at https://grahamcluley.com, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley