SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Gadgets known as phone jammers are gaining popularity in the U.S., but they also carry big risks. Security experts say they are illegal, and can be potentially dangerous.
You can thank a guy in Philadelphia who got fed up with fellow bus passengers yapping on their cell phones for the sudden internet spike about cell phone jammers. The devices, which can be bought online for between $40 to $1,000, is causing concern among some security experts.
"In addition to committing a crime, if somebody were to need to use that phone to call, let's say 911, for police or fire services, it would prevent them from making that call," sheriff's communications coordinator Jeff Hebert said.
According to the FCC's newly published frequently asked questions guide about cell phone jammers, they are "illegal radio frequency transmitters designed to block, jam or interfere with authorized radio communications. It "…works by emitting radio frequency waves that prevent the targeted device from establishing and maintaining a connection."
"Cell phone jammer" was one of the top 10 searches on Google Trends after the Philadelphia story broke.
In the United States, it is illegal to sell, own or use one without the government's permission. The devices are offered for sale on a handful of websites, most of which are operated by dealers outside the country.
"There are fines and jail time that come with it. The FCC is being very diligent in pursuing the people that are marketing and selling the devices," Hebert said.
There are significant fines up to $16,000 for each violation, and as high as $112,500 for any single act. Possession of a jammer can also result in government seizure of the illegal equipment and criminal penalties including prison.
"The message is don't use them. There really is no purpose in using that. If others are using their cell phones around you, just walk away," Hebert said.
So far, Hebert told us that he has not heard of anybody being arrested in our county for cell phone jammer use.