Looted smartphones appearing on auction sites, but how can you avoid buying stolen goods?

Despite this, eBay, the UK's largest online auction site, says it has not seen any unusual listing activity, but adds that staff will be vigilant over the coming weeks.

In a press statement, eBay said: “Our thoughts are with the businesses and communities affected by recent events in London and around the UK”, adding that the site will cooperate fully with the investigating authorities to identify and remove any listings which are linked to criminal activity.

Despite these assurances, the volume of iPhone 3GS phones available on eBay has soared from a few dozen seen a month ago to approaching 150 as of this morning. The 3GS is a popular phone amongst pre-pay users, and the O2 plus Orange networks have been promoting the handset in recent months, meaning that stocks of the smartphone are being held in many stores, Infosecurity notes.

According to Recipero, which claims to be the world's largest electronic goods reporting firm, the volume of these types of goods has been rising on auction and similar web sites since the London riots, meaning that those considering buying are at risk of buying stolen goods.

The company says its has enlisted the support of the West Midlands Police Mobile Phone Crime Unit, eBay, Best Buy Europe and Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum – which speaks for the UK cellos – in a bid to curtail the practice of looters trying to sell stolen electronics kit on the sites.

In parallel with this, Recipero is now offering the public the ability to check the history of a smartphone or similar product they may be considering buying by checking the IMEI or serial numbers at Checkmend.com.

Currently, says the firm, the police are using the police national computer and the UK's national property register to check the history of these goods. Officers are, the firm adds, currently patrolling the streets using in-car terminals and handheld devices to check goods when executing search warrants or stop and searches.

Adrian Portlock, Recipero's managing director, said that stolen items are now appearing on auction sites and, as a result, he advises everybody to approach purchasing these with extreme caution.

“We have seen the number of stolen items recorded with us triple from two to six thousand every day since the riots in London and the rest of the UK began. We expect this number to continue rising as we learn more”, he said.

Jack Wraith, CEO of the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum, said that mobile phone industry has expressed concern that honest members of the public may be duped into buying looted mobile phones and other mobile devices that have been stolen during the recent lootings and burglaries.

“Not only could this cause the buyer of such items legal issues if they end up in possession of stolen goods, but as an industry we are committed to barring stolen handsets from working on UK networks”, he said.

“So whilst a mobile may be advertised as working, this may not be the case when the item arrives or the paperwork catches up and the item is barred. Our advice is to only buy from legitimate sources and if in doubt use the facilities for checking such as those provided by Checkmend to establish the status of the item being offered for sale”, he added.

As a result of its observations and research, Recipero is advising internet users to check all purchases on the Checkmend.com portal, where a history of a smartphone can be obtained for £1.99, and to refuse a purchase if the seller does not offer the serial number when requested.

Potential buyers are also advised to use a credit card or payment service like Paypal that offers a refund guarantee if an item turns out to be stolen.

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