SMS bombs nominated for crime-fighting prize

The text message bomb, a weapon invented by the Amsterdam police force to prevent mobile phone theft, has been nominated for a crime prevention prize sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Justice.

To make GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) handsets unattractive loot for muggers, the Amsterdam police force in March started flooding phones that had been reported stolen with SMS (Short Message Service) text messages that say: "This handset was nicked, buying or selling is a crime. The police." The project has proven successful, according to the Amsterdam police.

"The number of handset robberies has dropped significantly. The message bombs have made mobile phones a less hot item for thieves," said Cees Rameau, a spokesman for the Amsterdam-Amstelland police.

In July, 255 cases of street robbery were reported in Amsterdam with 186 mobile phones stolen, compared with 482 reports of street robberies and 339 handsets stolen in January, according to Rameau.

"Although the number of street robberies is traditionally lower in summer, we do believe that the lower number of phone thefts is also thanks to our campaign," he said, adding that the Amsterdam police is "enthusiastic" about being nominated for the prize.

Besides "SMS bombs," the cell phone theft-fighting campaign in Amsterdam included a promotion team that handed out flyers on public transportation and at schools. To interest teenagers -- heavy users of mobile phones and often the victim of muggings -- two Dutch rap artists toured schools and performed a "GSM prevention song."

"People have become more responsible and aren't using their phones as much in or near public places such as train stations," said Rameau, adding that the police will continue to watch GSM theft and will continue bombing stolen handsets.

The prize, called Hein Roethofprijs and worth 40,000 Dutch guilders (US$16,538), is awarded annually. The two other projects that have been nominated this year are an educational program about violence by a group of performers in Groningen and a neighborhood watch project in the Hague.

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Joris Evers

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