Can it be possible to trace mobile with or a changed IMEI phone?

Many cellphone users are led to believe that the 15-digit IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) number, which is unique to their handset, will help trace their lost phone.

But the truth is that only a small percentage of the lost mobiles are traced even though complainants provide the number to the police.

The reason cited for this failure is the deletion of the crucial IMEI number soon after the loss.

“A few mobile mechanics are involved in deleting and changing IMEI numbers of phones. They do it for most brands, except iPhone. If they are unable to change the number, they dismantle the handset and sell the parts,” said P. Harishekaran, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime), Bengaluru.

Though the police forward the details to the telecom service providers in the State, the deletion of IMEI number blocks the possibility of the handset being traced.

Stolen mobile phones are also despatched to different States, where the telecom service provider’s circle is not alerted about the loss, or even to neighbouring countries. The police do not forward routine complaints to service providers outside the State as it is a complex procedure, said B. Dayananda, Mysuru City Police Commissioner.

Some high-end phones are smuggled into neighbouring countries, which makes detection all the more difficult, said Mr. Harishekaran. “Even when they are sold in a neighbouring State, it is tough to track them down. Also, the expenditure of going to those places and recovering them equals to the price of the lost item. Hence, lost phones are not taken up on priority unless it is connected to a heinous crime,” Mr. Harishekaran said.

Police officials, meanwhile, point out that gangs engaged in stealing cellphones operate is busy areas like bus-stands, markets, and railway stations. While people, who lose high-end mobiles lodge a complaint, many users of ordinary phones do not bother.

Meanwhile, police officials, who also use mobile phones extensively to detect various crimes, say that an IMEI number is not actually needed to trace a phone. “It is possible to detect the IMEI number of the phone based on the SIM card number,” the official said.

So, what is the big deal of mobile phone users recording the IMEI number and providing them to the police in the event of its loss?

“It’s always best that the loss of a mobile phone is reported immediately to the police. For, you never know that a lost handset can be used in a crime or a terror incident,” said Mysuru’s Deputy Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Shekar H.T.


The city police has set up an exclusive laboratory to track lost phones.

P. Harishekaran, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime), Bengaluru, said the personnel deployed at the laboratory have been trained to detect phones. “There are a few brands like iPhone and Nokia, whose IMEI numbers are difficult to change. The lab will help detect phones whose IMEI numbers are not tampered with,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Harishekaran said the police also carry out raids on mobile repair shops. “We have arrested mobile mechanics, who were found changing IMEI numbers for Rs. 350 to Rs. 400,” he said. The police also hold regular drives to identify gangs specialised in stealing phones and selling them in the market.

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