3Rivers Blog

Smart phone theft: The latest trend in crime

Posted on Friday, March 7, 2014

The Federal Communication Commission recently reported on a new trend in crime; stating that one in three robberies involve the theft of a smart phone. The reason is simple… smart phones are small and easy to conceal, are carried by about half of the population, and have high resale values. The spread of online resale sites like Craigslist have also made it easier for thieves to sell stolen hardware while the booming second-hand market makes it difficult for consumers to distinguish between legitimate resellers and criminals who are trying to move stolen property.

Smart Phone Theft | Image source: Shutterstock.com / Photographer: patpitchaya

It's not just a domestic market either. According to Businessweek, a new iPhone will net more $1,000 in Italy or Brazil. This international trade makes it very easy for criminal elements, like drug cartels and terrorist organizations, to reap tremendous profits from so-called “Apple Picking.” Even a generation-old smart phone could sell for as much as $400 internationally, making for a lucrative source of funding for criminal organizations.

While not as common, some thieves use the access to personal data on a stolen phone to commit identity theft. If you have your credit card number stored in the iTunes, Google Marketplace, or other mobile app stores, that information can be accessed by to commit credit card fraud or other crimes.

This new trend doesn't just threaten your property; it may even threaten your life. Last year, a 26-year old Korean immigrant who was working as a cook in an upper-end Manhattan restaurant, was shot after refusing to hand over his smart phone. He died on the sidewalk with the signature white ear buds of his iPhone still in his ears. Police apprehended the suspect by responding to a Craigslist ad offering to sell the phone for $400.

Several U.S. Senators have proposed a national “kill switch” program that would require every smart phone in the U.S. to come equipped with a remote function to wipe all data and permanently deactivate the device. The rationale is that, if the user can destroy the functionality of the device, the tremendous profit that’s available in stolen cell phones will dry up. Major smart phone distributors insist that installation of this protocol would require new hardware and therefore require a costly and significant change in manufacturing practices.

While the fate of the legislation is still pending, it represents only one of the possible solutions to the epidemic of smart phone theft. Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself against this kind of crime:

  • Don't use the stock headphones that come with the phone. These are easily recognizable to potential thieves, which helps them quickly identify you as a target. Get a small, discrete set of ear buds instead.
  • Don't use your phone in areas where you're uncertain of your safety. Keep it in your bag or pocket while you’re on the bus, while walking at night, etc.
  • Check with your cell-phone carrier about insurance for your phone. You can often get replacement technology if your phone is stolen or destroyed. This knowledge can help keep you from losing more than your phone in a violent crime.
  • Know how to de-link your accounts from your phone. Whether from a computer, phone, or by visiting your carrier's store, you should be able to get your personal information off a device remotely. Being able to do this quickly can help minimize your losses.

As always, practice good judgment and safe thinking. Be conscious of your surroundings and avoid situations that seem risky. Take a few sensible precautions, so you don't become a statistic.