Fighting Phone Thefts With Phone Blocking System @ Public Cellular Blocking Service (PCBS)

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The rapid increase of mobile phone theft cases has demanded the authorities to take steps to prevent or reduce these cases and ensure that lost/stolen mobile phones are immobilised.

One of the steps that the authority, in this case, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (“MCMC”) is taking is to set up a national IMEI database and introduce a national phone blocking system using IMEI number.

International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (“IMEI”) number is essentially a 15-digit unique number that is assigned to each and every mobile phone in the market, which is used for identifying a particular mobile phone and its functionality as a security feature is used extensively worldwide.

Phone blocking system using IMEI number has been used for many years in many countries including the Europe, United States as well as Australia.

The idea of phone blocking had first been mooted by the Government since 2008 and was finally rolled out in the 2nd quarter of 2014. Malaysia is the first country in this region that rolls out this phone blocking system.

According to the Direction on Public Cellular Blocking Service for Cellular Mobile Access Devices under Required Application Services (Direction 1 of 2013) issued by the MCMC on 30 April 2013;

each network service provider and application service provider is required to execute all acts necessary to prepare and/or facilitate the implementation of the Public Cellular Blocking Service (“PCBS“) within 3 months from the date of the Direction including, the installation of an Equipment Identity Register (“EIR”),

  • ensure integration and connectivity of the EIR at all times to the Malaysian Central Equipment Identity Register (“MCEIR”) for the transmission of blocking and unblocking requests,
  • ensure arrangements are in place to deal with the blocking requests of lost/stolen mobile phones and the unblocking requests for recovered mobile phones,
  • ensure that all blocking/unblocking requests are updated to the MCEIR,
  • ensure that all blocking and unblocking instructions from the MCEIR are updated to the EIR; as well as
  • provide reports as required by the MCMC from time to time.

PCBS is essentially a service that will enable mobile phone users to block a lost/stolen mobile phone from making /receiving calls, sending/receiving SMS/MMS and accessing all data networks within Malaysia.

What it means is that, once the mobile phone is blocked, the mobile phone becomes unusable even if a new SIM card is inserted into the mobile phone. Users are not required to sign up for this service as it is available to all users free of charge.

The MCMC said that the system was aimed at reducing street crime and mobile phone theft cases since stolen mobile phones can be sold at half the retail price in the black market.

A check on the websites of the three main telecommunication companies (“telcos”) in Malaysia shows that they have already put in place some mechanisms to facilitate the PCBS.

The IMEI number is usually stored automatically on the telco’s system when the users subscribe for the telco’s network service.

However, users are encouraged to register their ownership details on the www.blockmyphone.my portal so that in the event their lost/stolen mobile phones are found subsequently, the users can claim back their mobile phones. The online ownership registration is free of charge.

Only mobile phones that have a valid IMEI number can be blocked under the PCBS.

A valid IMEI number is a unique identification number for each mobile phone that is recognized by GSMA. The IMEI number is usually found printed inside the battery compartment of the mobile phone or on the original packaging box. A user can also dial *#06# into the keypad on his mobile phone to obtain the IMEI number on the display screen.

The user will need to contact his telco or walk into the participating customer service centre to make a PCBS request. If the mobile phone is found subsequently, the user can contact his telco again to request to unblock his mobile phone. Once the mobile phone is blocked, it will remain blocked until a legitimate unblock request is received by the telco.

How does PCBS work?

The PCBS uses the IMEI number of the mobile phone to block/unblock lost/stolen mobile phone.

If your mobile phone is lost/stolen, immediately report the incident to your telco to;

(i) block the SIM card (so that your mobile phone number will be blocked and you will not be charged for any calls made afterwards), and

(ii) block your mobile phone under the PCBS (so that the functionality of your mobile phone will be blocked even if a new SIM card is inserted into the mobile phone).

If a crime is involved, please also make a police report without delay and ensure that your mobile phone’s IMEI number is included in the police report. If you have registered your own details on the www.blockmyphone.my portal, remember to update your mobile phone’s status as lost/stolen.

Upon receiving your PCBS request, your telco will blacklist your mobile phone’s IMEI number on its EIR, and then submit the blacklisted IMEI number to the MCEIR.

The MCEIR will then forward the blacklisted IMEI number to all other telcos in Malaysia so that they can also blacklist the IMEI number on their EIRs. Once this is done, your mobile phone will be immobilised.

Celcom says that it will take about one working day to process the blocking/unblocking request, but the actual blocking/unblocking will only take place when Celcom’s network detects the mobile phone. DiGi also states that the mobile phone will be blocked/unblocked as soon as DiGi’s network detects the mobile phone. Maxis, however, does not state how long it would take for it to block/unblock the mobile phone.

If subsequently, you have recovered your lost/stolen mobile phone, you can request your telco to unblock the mobile phone. You should also update your details on the www.blockmyphone.my portal to remove your mobile phone’s lost/stolen status.

If you sell or give away your mobile phone, you should also de-register your mobile phone on the www.blockmyphone.my portal, and update it with the records of your new mobile phone.

Please also remind the purchaser or recipient of your previous mobile phone to register himself or update his details on the portal so that he too can enjoy the full benefits of this free service.

Note that only the registered owner of the mobile phone which is registered on the telco’s network, prior to the mobile phone being lost/stolen, can request to block/unblock the mobile phone.

This is to prevent malicious or unscrupulous people from abusing the system by making false PCBS request. Besides, the PCBS will only block the mobile phone from making/receiving calls, sending/receiving SMS/MMS and accessing all data networks within Malaysia. It will not be able to help the user to locate/trace the lost/stolen mobile phone.

The Government’s initiative to launch the PCBS has received warm responses from the consumer associations and the public as it is seen as a move to protect consumer’s interests.

It is also hoped that with this initiative, it will reduce street crime, especially snatch thefts, as the thieves will no longer have the incentives to steal mobile phones anymore since they can no longer sell mobile phones that are unusable.

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About the author:
This article was written by Edwin Lee Yong Cieh, Partner of this Firm (+6016 928 6130, [email protected]). Feel free to contact him if you have any queries.
This article was first published in CHIP Magazine Malaysia.
The view expressed in this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute professional legal advice. You are advised to seek proper legal advice for your specific situation.

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