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Forensic Expert Advises Against Buying Used Phones

Mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets can be used to save several types of personal information such as contacts, photos, calendars and notes, SMS and MMS messages.

Smartphones record web browsing information, geographical location information, social media messages and contacts, call records, emails, voicemails, documents, spreadsheets, calendar entries, internet history, photos, recorded audio and video, Wi-Fi, bluetooth connection information and GPS data.

These data can be retrieved from our mobile devices and used as digital evidence during criminal and civil investigations in the court room.

The ability to recover these vast amount of data from our mobile devices has become easier by the availability of digital forensic softwares many of which are opensource and free to download and use.

As long as the recognised digital forensic procedures and methods have been followed to ensure that digital forensic evidence is admissible, such evidence can be the smoking gun that nails a criminal in court.

Deleting data such as contacts, photos and messages from a smartphone or its recycle bin does not permanently erase the data from that phone, especially if the data has not been overwritten by new data. Even when flashing is done on smartphones, the data ‘deleted’ can still be recovered using the right kind of digital recovery software or device.

This shows that stolen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can be traced back to their original or legit owners no matter how long it takes.

Therefore, it becomes very dangerous to buy used phones from any source that is not the legal owner or has no proof of purchase from original point of sale.

This security tip was reemphasized by police forensic expert, Dr Ben Agbo at the just concluded Nigerian Forensic Symposium Abuja, who advised participants and the general public not to buy used phones in the open market.

Used phones or what Nigerians popularly call ‘second hand’ or ‘belgium’ phones are cheap. They are cheaper than new phones. But how certain are we of their legitimacy? What if the mobile phone was obtained by robbery or theft?

There is virtually no case of robbery and theft where mobile devices are not taken by perpetrators, be it smartphones, laptops or tablets. The stories of victims of these crimes losing their mobile devices are rife.

It is worthy to note that it is very possible to track a stolen phone without the owner’s sim care in it. Also remember that deleting data such as photos, videos, text messages, chats from WhatsApp, BBM, Facebook messenger and the like, from a phone does not permanently erase those data from it. There are powerful digital devices that can track mobile phones even when the devices have no sim or are switched off.

Our security and law enforcement agents are already being trained in digital forensics and recovery of digital data from mobile devices. Hence, to avoid becoming a victim of crime that you have no idea about, refrain from purchasing used phones or mobile devices, online or offline.

Except in the case were you know the source and the proof of purchase from the origin is available, purchasing used mobile devices is risky and probably, criminal.

What if the used phone is linked to an ongoing criminal or terrorist investigation by law enforcement or security agents?

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