Smartphones Are The Target Of A Growing Number Of Robberies

If someone is robbed in public today in a major city, it’s most likely the case that the target it their smartphone:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In this tech-savvy city teeming with commuters and tourists, the cell phone has become a top target of robbers who use stealth, force and sometimes guns.

Nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco this year are cell phone-related, police say, and most occur on bustling transit lines.

One thief recently snatched a smartphone while sitting right behind his unsuspecting victim and darted out the rear of a bus in mere seconds.

Another robber grabbed an iPhone from an oblivious bus rider – while she was still talking.

And, in nearby Oakland, City Council candidate Dan Kalb was robbed at gunpoint of his iPhone Wednesday after he attended a neighborhood anti-crime meeting.

“I thought he was going to shoot me,” recalled Kalb, who had dropped his phone during the stickup. “He kept saying, `Find the phone! Find the phone!'”

These brazen incidents are part of a ubiquitous crime wave striking coast to coast. New York City Police report that more than 40 percent of all robberies now involve cell phones. And cell phone thefts in Los Angeles, which account for more than a quarter of all the city’s robberies, are up 27 percent from this time a year ago, police said.

“This is your modern-day purse snatching,” said longtime San Francisco Police Capt. Joe Garrity, who began noticing the trend here about two years ago. “A lot of younger folks seem to put their entire lives on these things that don’t come cheap.”

Thefts of cell phones- particularly the expensive do-it-all smartphones containing everything from photos and music to private e-mails and bank account statements- are costing consumers millions of dollars and sending law enforcement agencies and  wireless carriers nationwide scrambling for solutions.

Given the value of the phones, and that fact that most people aren’t paying attention to the world around them when they talk, text, or surf the web so it becomes relatively easy for a thief using the element of surprise to make a threat, grab the phone, and get away quickly. As for how to combat this, it would seem to include a combination people being more aware of what’s going on around them and using security tools that allow stolen phones to be remotely wiped, or even completely disabled. Such programs exist for both the iPhone and Android phones. There are also programs that can remotely activate a phones GPS and provide its location.

H/T: Instapundit

FILED UNDER: Crime, Quick Takes, Science & Technology
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Brett says:

    Would password-protection help with this as well? Ideally something that requires it for everything except receiving inbound calls and texts.

    I’d also like a set-up where I can remotely trigger my smartphone to start blaring, “I AM STOLEN! PLEASE CONTACT THE POLICE!” whenever it’s turned on.

  2. Gustopher says:

    The US carriers have pushed back at creating a blacklist of stolen phones, so they cannot be reactivated on other accounts. Since there is a market for these stolen phones as simply used phones, theft continues.

    When your phone gets stolen, not only does the wireless carrier get to sell you another phone, but they also get to add a subscriber for the stolen phone as well (since most phones in the US are locked to the carrier).

  3. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As for how to combat this, it would seem to include a combination people being more aware of what’s going on around them and using security tools that allow stolen phones to be remotely wiped, or even completely disabled.

    The problem with being able to remotely wipe your phone is that someone may also be able to do it while you are still in possession of your phone, that’s what happened to Mat Honan.

    If there’s ever a major security breech in a remote wipe system it would lead to something really, really, really, really bad.

  4. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Pointless. Any halfway competent thief will disable and wipe the phone as soon as possible. The only solution is something that is independent of the phone itself like this.

  5. mantis says:

    @PJ:

    The problem with being able to remotely wipe your phone is that someone may also be able to do it while you are still in possession of your phone, that’s what happened to Mat Honan.

    No, that’s the problem when you use the same username and password for every account you own, like Honan did. They hacked into his Amazon account and as a result had access to every account he owned. That’s just sloppy, especially for a guy who works at Wired.

    I for one use a different username and password for every account. It’s annoying, but I don’t have to worry about someone ruining my whole life if they get into one account.

  6. J-Dub says:

    You should be able to remotely fry your phone by overloading the battery. My iphone did that, just not intentionally.