Four software engineers who specialise in helping kidnappers and armed robbers to change the serial numbers of stolen phones and those used for ransom negotiations, also known as IMEI numbers, have been arrested by operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT).
It was gathered that the suspects, who were identified as Bright Irabo, Benedict Edo, Ernest Ubong and Christian Egbheri, were all rounded up at the Oba Market in Benin City, the Edo State capital, when the operatives got information about their activities.
A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity disclosed that IRT operatives, led by a Deputy Superintendent of Police, had been experiencing difficulty solving most armed robbery and kidnapping cases within the state as robbed mobile phones were usually untraceable as a result of the changed IMEI numbers. The IRT team was recently deployed to Edo State to combat the high rate of kidnapping and armed robbery in state.
The source explained that the operatives made a breakthrough in tracking members of the syndicate assisting the bandits when a 24-year-old trader, Othuke Samuel, had his mobile phone snatched from him on his way home after the close of business.
Samuel was said to have reported the theft of his phone to the police and a manhunt was launched for the thief. Incidentally, the thief, Bulama Sani, a native of Jigawa State, not recognising Samuel, went to his (Samuel’s) shop asking him to buy the phone from him.
Samuel, in an interview, disclosed: “When he brought the phone to me to buy in my shop, I recognised that the phone was mine and when I looked at the boy properly, I recognised him. I stayed calm and I asked him how much he wanted to sell the phone and he asked me to pay him N150,000.
“I then asked him to wait in my shop; that I wanted to get some money from the bank. I left him at the shop and went straight to the IRT operatives, who came to my shop and apprehended him.”
Vanguard gathered that after Sani confessed that he changed the IMEI of the stolen at the Oba Market so as to make the phone untraceable. He then led the operatives in arresting the software engineer who helped him change the stolen phone’s IMEI number.
It was gathered that the four software engineers arrested during the raid at Oba Market confessed to changing phone IMEI numbers for criminals for a fee of N1,000 per phone. One of the suspects, Benedict Edo, a native of Upoji in Esan area of Edo State and a student of University of Benin, said: “I am working at Abuma Shopping Complex in Benin City, and I repair and flash phones of all kinds and I do change of phone’s IMEI.
“I learned the process of changing phone IMEI from the internet and I am also aware that it was criminals that were always coming to change phone IMEI. I have stopped accepting the job from customers before the police came to arrest me.”
Another arrested suspect, Christian Egbheria, a native of Osun State, said he was aware that changing of IMEI of phones is criminal, but that he engaged himself in the business because the money in it is attractive.
He explained that the process of changing a phone IMEI is easy, as all that is needed is to access the phone’s software, wipe off the old number and replace it with a new one.