A new police team in the West Midlands is preparing to crack down on a surge of false mobile phone robbery reports when the new iPhone 5 is launched.
West Midlands Police said it was expecting an increase in faked thefts – and warned it would crack down on the problem.
Officers said gadget-hungry individuals, perhaps stuck in a long term contracts with their current handset, are prepared to report they have been robbed of their mobile in order to cheat their insurance companies and get their hands on a new phone.
It is thought the iPhone 5 will be launched next month.
But a new Mobile Phone Crime Team in the West Midlands is aiming to put a stop to the fraud that falsely inflates crime figures and diverts police from investigating real crimes.
Chief Insp Matt Markham warned people caught making fraudulent claims could end up unable to get cover in the future.
Chf Insp Markham, who heads the team, said: “When new technology, such as the latest iPhone is released, people who find themselves locked in to contracts with their current handset will report their phones stolen so they can get a crime number from us in order to claim on either their house insurance cover or phone insurance so they can get a new phone.
“We ask any victim of crime to have the old handsets blocked to they can’t be used.
“But some phones have been identified as being unblocked a few months later and turning up at mobile phone recycling places where they are being sold.
“When we have identified people doing that, we have gone back to them and they have admitted the phone wasn’t stolen.”
He added: “Once an insurance claim has been invalidated, people are going to find it difficult to get insurance.”
While those caught making false reports could end with on-the-spot fines for wasting police time, the more serious problem for them would be in making mortgage applications and buying cars.
The new team was set up as a short-term measure to target those making false reports and second hand dealers trading in stolen phones and to make mobiles a “commodity no longer worth stealing”.
It is estimated that 40 per cent of robberies are carried out for mobile phones. But one in five reports could be bogus.
It is hoped that over the next few months, they will be able to share best practice with frontline officers across the force.
Chief Insp Markham said a new database of all phones reported stolen allowed officers to check suspect handsets.
He said the National Mobile Phone Register was allowing officers to go back and trace people who had made suspected false claims last year.
Mobiles are the only personal possession that can be checked in the same way as a car’s details can be ascertained from its registration number.