Canada needs a registry of stolen cellphones

There’s an epidemic of cellphone theft in Canada. A Toronto MP, Mike Sullivan, wants to set up a national registry, so that thieves can’t activate a stolen handset on another carrier’s network.

Canada’s telecom regulator sent a letter to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, asking for statistics on mobile phone thefts in Canada. It cited data that one in three robberies in the United States involves a mobile phone.

It also asked the CWTA what measures it was taking to protect consumers from being victims of mobile phone theft. This is important since the industry is beginning to introduce mobile devices that will act as “digital wallets.”

On Aug. 13, the CWTA sent a response that didn’t seem to answer the CRTC’s questions in a meaningful way:

— CWTA has no statistics on the number of devices reported lost or stolen to its members. Such numbers are considered “competitive, proprietary and confidential.”

— CWTA recognizes that it’s important to have a statistical database to see the scope of the problem. It hopes to produce one by late 2012 or early 2013.

— CWTA and its members hope to implement an industry-wide public awareness campaign on protecting consumers from phone theft by late 2012 or early 2013.

It also talked about how the international market for stolen cellphones makes it difficult to reduce theft statistics:

Handset theft is still significant in the countries (the UK and Australia in particular) with the most comprehensive theft-reduction measures.

While a particular jurisdiction can reduce the market for stolen phones within its own borders, it cannot do so in other parts of the world. There is significant global demand for black market cell phones.

On Sept. 28, the CRTC fired back against the telecom industry’s reluctance to combat a serious problem. Check out the testiness of the regulator’s response.

— Two months should be enough for CWTA to produce statistics on cellphone thefts by province. A timeframe of late 2012 or early 2013 is not reasonable.

— While CWTA has a working group on handset security, it needs to say who are the members, how often they meet, what resources are available and whether or not law enforcement officials are in the group to ensure a holistic approach to the problem.

— Why can’t CWTA start a public education campaign before 2013? After all, it set up the handset security working group in spring 2012.

— If it takes too long and costs too much to set up a Canadian registry of stolen cellphones, why can’t CWTA members join an international database that already exists? Let’s see a detailed explanation of the costs and barriers to joining.

The letter ends with a threat:

It should be noted that if the Commission is not satisfied by the response of the Canadian wireless industry to this issue, the Commission will investigate what further regulatory action needs to be taken to provide the necessary tools to help consumers in this regard.

It’s great to see the CRTC pushing the telecom industry to act more quickly to protect consumers, given the headlong rush to create mobile commerce through cellphones.

Here’s a sign that the CRTC wants change: It told me about this letter on Friday, Sept. 28, even before posting it on the CRTC website.

Do you have any thoughts about cellphone theft? Has it happened to you? How were you treated by your carrier?

The CRTC didn’t mention the troubling violence that often accompanies street robberies and mugging. Check out this Toronto Star story, which talks about high school students getting beaten for their phones.

The thefts aren’t restricted to schools. One woman had her phone grabbed from her hand as she spoke on it. And most troubling of all, a man in a car accident had his phone stolen by a passerby, who had the nerve to offer to use it and call 911.

Hurray for Melanie Aitken at the Competition Bureau

Melanie Aitken took on Canada’s powerful real estate agents during her time as competition commissioner. Last week, she unveiled a few more surprises.

The Competition Bureau filed charges against three of the country’s largest cellphone providers, alleging they allowed third-parties to trick cellphone subscribers into signing up for expensive text services and then took up to 60 per cent of the profits.

It also ordered Rogers, Bell, Telus and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association to pay $31 million in penalties and refunds to customers.

And in today’s Globe and Mail, Aitken expressed concerns about the anti-competitive aspects of Bell’s $3.4 billion acquisiton of Astral Media.

“This is a complex transaction. It troubles a lot of people,” she said, adding that her departure this week shouldn’t have any effect on the bureau’s current work.

I was thrilled to see the lawsuit against Big Telecom for enabling the transmission of third-party premium text messages. Not only do I get a steady stream of complaints, but I called on the bureau to investigate this practice a year ago.

Bernard Lord, head of the wireless lobby, seemed upset to find that the bureau wouldn’t agree to chase a few rogue text providers. Instead, it put the blame squarely on the companies trasnsmitting the messages to unwitting consumers.

Adieu, Ms. Aitken. Consumers are sorry to see you leave. Let’s hope that your willingness to tackle Canada’s business elite continues to enliven the bureau’s work.

Talking about complaints, I still hear a lot about outrageous bills from telecom providers over data roaming. I did a column and a follow-up in the Star this week.

I’m posting comments below, including advice from wireless carriers on how to avoid data roaming shocks. I wish they were more forthcoming in their everyday communication with customers.

He’s denied insurance after two late payments

Here’s a cautionary tale that shows why you should always make your insurance payments on time. The consequences of being late can be horrendous.

Use post-dated cheques, a credit card or preauthorized payments from your bank account. Being late, even if only a few days, can cost you plenty when you renew the policy.

And if you switch insurers, you may be cut off by the new company once the information is disclosed.

William wrote to me to describe how he was blackballed when trying to switch his car insurance. If he didn’t get coverage, he could lose his leased car and his job.

He was surprised to find that he was classified as high risk after being late with two payments in two years, never by more than a week.

Yes, I know that he can get car insurance from the Facility Association, the insurer of last resort, but the rates can be sky high.

Here’s his detailed letter below. Insurance buyer, beware.