The Rwanda National Police (RNP) arrested at least 12 people in Kigali city who were changing the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) of stolen cellphones.
The IMEI is a unique 15-digit number assigned to each GSM mobile and allows, for example, to track a stolen or compromised phone.
RNP spokesman, Commissioner of Police (CP) John Bosco Kabera, said the group was arrested during coordinated police operations on Monday May 23 in downtown and Nyabugogo.
At least 12 laptops equipped with software, which they used to change serial numbers, were seized from the suspects. The police also seized 29 cell phones from their workshops that were allegedly stolen, the serial numbers of which they had either changed or had not yet changed.
“Cases of people snatching or stealing mobile phones are reported almost every day, especially in the City of Kigali. Although in some cases some of the stolen cell phones are recovered; most of the time it becomes difficult to track these handsets as there are people working with thieves to unlock them and change their original serial numbers which makes them undetectable.
Thus, the police have launched operations targeting individuals or groups who invest in these criminal activities to change the serial numbers of stolen mobile phones,” said CP Kabera.
He added that the arrest of the 12 people followed investigations and information provided by members of the public about specific people involved.
One of the suspects; Joseph Ngendabanga, Automotive Technology Technician and Auto Mechanic explained how they change the IMEI.
“The software we use helps you find password clues and unlock a phone, change the serial number and format different types of handsets. To change a serial number, I first need to know its original unique serial number by pressing *#06#. It helps me to create a new one in my software with 15 digits of my choice, but I have to start with 35 in my newly created IMEI,” said Ngendabanga .
CP Kabera said that these are ongoing operations targeting this chain, including thieves, those who change the serial numbers of mobile phones and people who buy and resell these phones in their stores. He added that there are other people who have not yet been arrested.