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Violent robberies of iPhones and other smartphones: Authorities say there’s a solution, but the wireless companies won’t do their part to help. TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

Police say it is an epidemic across the country and only getting worse: Tens of thousands of smartphones stolen every year. And yes, it gets violent: Many victims are beaten, bruised and hospitalized. Authorities say there’s an easy fix, a way to stop these criminals in their tracks right now. But, they say, the wireless companies are blocking it — to protect their profits.

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Washington, D.C., police chief Cathy Lanier sees it every day: “It’s a huge business, huge business. The after-market resale of these phones … the profit that they’re making is just driving this whole problem.”

And, she said, the wireless industry is putting its own profit over your safety, allowing stolen phones to be reactivated later with a different phone number. Yes, that’s right: In most cases, black market buyers or the thieves themselves can still buy service on that stolen phone.

Police chief Cathy Lanier’s message for the wireless industry: “Shame on you. This is something that is fixable. Why wouldn’t you in the name of customer service and safety want to protect your customer? It’s not just about profit.”

Now nearly 70 big-city police chiefs are banding together, sending a letter to federal authorities saying that there’s an easy solution — a fix that would cut these violent robberies.

A brick instead of a phone

Here’s how it works: Every cell phone has its own unique ID, or fingerprint. Once the phone is reported stolen, it would be blacklisted in the U.S. Wireless companies from Verizon to AT&T, T-Mobile to Sprint, would all share information, banning service on that stolen phone on all carriers forever.

“It becomes a brick,” Lanier told us. “It’s useless, so there‘s no profit anymore — and when you take that profit away, then there’s no motivation to stick a gun in somebody’s face and take their phone.”

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