ISLAMABAD: Local law enforcement agencies are facing new threats from criminals using unique and sophisticated device and software capable of electronically changing identifications of cellular phones and other gadgets that can jeopardise the investigation capability of the police and other forces.

Senior police officers told Dawn that none of the investigating agencies and the authority concerned was aware of the existence of the device until the Criminal Investigation Agency busted a gang of robbers recently.

A device operated with a software was recovered from one of the gang members that erased and changed the International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) number of mobile phones, they added.

It took four months to trace and arrest one of the persons who was erasing and changing the IMEI numbers after stealing/snatching mobile phones.

Four months ago, the CIA arrested a man involved in street crime who led investigators to Rawalpindi where he used to sell snatched phones.

In Rawalpindi, a number of people dealing in mobile phones were interrogated and one of them told the CIA that it was impossible to recover the stolen mobiles as their IMEI numbers were erased and changed easily.

Separately, the CIA recently arrested three other suspects involved in street crime who disclosed the identification of a man in Blue Area to whom they used to sell stolen and snatched mobile phones. They also said the man was capable of erasing and changing the IMEI numbers of phones.

The CIA planted a man who got erased and changed the IMEI number of a phone from him.

Shortly, the CIA arrested the man and during interrogation he confessed to carrying out the illegal practice. The police said the suspect was not an IT or software engineer or any certificate or degree holder.

The suspect told the investigators that he had made a software installed in a laptop besides assembling a device used for erasing and changing the IMEI numbers.

He was not alone in the illegal practice as there were five other people who had self-made devices and were involved in the same practice.

The suspect said he had been doing the practice for over a year and tampered with thousands of mobile phones.

Investigators identify any suspect and trace them with geo-fencing of their mobile phones which have two identification numbers: Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) and the IMEI.

“Investigators totally depend on the mobile phone in investigation and arrest of any culprit,” said an officer.

With the SIM and IMEI numbers, the investigators collect the Call Data Record (CDR) to establish the presence of the culprit at the crime scene.

But scores of criminal activities remain unchecked as the culprits involved in them did not use mobile phones, the officer added.

Criminals are using modern technology while the police still relay on old and outdated tools, another police officer said.

“It is a new threat for the police, especially investigators, and there is a need to address the issue on an emergency basis,” he said, adding the CIA would approach the PTA and seek its help to address the issue.

Besides, experts from the PTA will also be requested to take steps to counter the software and device.

A meeting will be held with the PTA with a request to examine the software and the device being used to erase and change the numbers, he added.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019