Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thieves targeting cellphones across the U.S.

  • Print

SAN FRANCISCO -- In this tech-savvy city teeming with commuters and tourists, the cellphone 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 cellphone-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.

These brazen incidents are part of a ubiquitous crime wave striking coast to coast. New York City Police report that more than 40 per cent of all robberies now involve cellphones. "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 cellphones -- particularly the expensive do-it-all smartphones containing everything from photos and music to private emails and bank account statements-- are costing consumers millions of dollars and sending law enforcement agencies and wireless carriers nationwide scrambling for solutions.

When Apple's ballyhooed iPhone 5 went on sale last month, New York City police encouraged buyers to register their phone's serial numbers with the department. That came just months after a 26-year-old chef at the Museum of Modern Art was killed for his iPhone while heading home to the Bronx.

Though some experts put annual cellphone losses in the billions of dollars, there is no precise figure on how many devices are stolen each year.

However, the problem has become so visible that it has caught the attention of lawmakers and regulators seeking to take the profit out of cellphone theft.

In April, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that the major U.S. cellphone carriers and the Federal Communications Commission have agreed to set up a national database to track reported stolen phones. It is scheduled to launch in late 2013.

Schumer also introduced a bill called the Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act, which proposes a five-year prison sentence for tampering with the ID numbers of a stolen cellphone. The bill is supported by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), a Washington, D.C. advocacy group.

In addition, CTIA officials said carriers are expected to launch individual databases later this month to permanently disable a cellphone reported stolen. The initiative is similar to a successful decade-old strategy in Australia.

Previously, U.S. carriers have only been able to disable so-called SIM cards, which can be swapped in and out of phones. That's led to a profitable black market for stolen phones.

Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA's vice-president of regulatory affairs, said the goal of creating theft databases is to render stolen cellphones worthless.

"We want to dry up the aftermarket," Guttman-McCabe said. "Hopefully, there will be no sense in stealing a phone and a once valuable piece of hardware will essentially turn into useless metal."

Right now, the incentive is to steal and that's creating huge losses, said Kevin Mahaffey, a co-founder of Lookout, a San Francisco-based mobile security firm which has advised carriers about the national database.

"Thieves know that carrying a smartphone is like carrying $500 in your hands," said Mahaffey.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 21, 2012 A6

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Theresa Oswald Leadership Bid

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project. Baby peregrine falcons. 21 days old. Three baby falcons. Born on ledge on roof of Radisson hotel on Portage Avenue. Project Coordinator Tracy Maconachie said that these are third generation falcons to call the hotel home. Maconachie banded the legs of the birds for future identification as seen on this adult bird swooping just metres above. June 16, 2004.
  • May 22, 2012 - 120522  - Westminster United Church photographed Tuesday May 22, 2012 .  John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think the provincial NDP’s approval rating could drop below the current 26 per cent?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google