Mobile phones stolen in the UK are locked from their own network within 48 hours, and 98 per cent of them are locked from all (UK) networks within 48 hours. Despite that 800,000 were stolen last year, according to government figures.
The locking figures come from tests run by MICAF (Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum) during September, and exceed industry targets of 80 per cent by this time, though we don't know how expansive the testing was.
The problem now, according to MICAF, is to let potential thieves know that stealing a mobile is pointless - to which end the government shelled out half a million quid in June on its "RU Getting the Msg" campaign to let people know. It wasn't aimed at the El Reg demographic, which explains why you didn't notice.
Stolen phones are blocked using their IMEI: the unique identifier of every handset. Changing the IMEI of a handset, or offering to change it, or even offering an introduction to someone who might offer to change it, all became offences in April, though more effective in stopping such reprogramming has been the pressure put on manufacturers to make the process more difficult.
Not every GMS network worldwide is signed up to blocking stolen IMEIs, though an increasing proportion are. Some phones will continue to be shipped abroad, and some will just be used for the few hours after they're stolen if they're used at all, but blocking stolen handsets quickly can only help reduce the theft - as long as the thieves know it's going to happen. ®