Cell phone robberies are on the rise

By Investigator Lance Colmer

By Investigator Lance Colmer

In a 2012 statement to Congress, FCC Chairman Julius Genachoski announced that since 2011 the percentage of Americans with smartphones has doubled, going from about 25 percent of subscribers to more than 50 percent. Along with this increase came alarming statistics regarding cell phone robberies.

The FCC found that in Washington DC, New York and other major cities, roughly 40 percent of all robberies involve cell phones. These robberies endanger the physical safety of the victims, as well as compromise the personal information stored in the stolen devices.

Thefts of cell phones, particularly expensive and sophisticated models such as Apple’s iPhone, often contain a victim’s personal information such as emails, private photos and even bank account information. Prior to selling the stolen phone on the street, thieves will attempt to use a victim’s personal information to commit identity theft, open credit accounts or make fraudulent online purchases.

So, what can a person do to lessen the likelihood of becoming a victim? The first step is to avoid situations that put you and your property in harm’s way. If possible, avoid walking on the street at night. This would be especially true for areas with frequent street robberies and thefts.

If you must walk or exercise at night, do so with a group, and stick to areas that are well lighted. Don’t take short cuts through parks, alleys or other darkened areas and avoid any place where you can potentially be isolated from public view.

Pay attention to your surroundings, especially when talking on the phone as you shop or walk through a parking lot. Not only are you advertising that you have a cell phone, but your attention will probably be focused more on your conversation and less on those around you.

If you do become a victim, there are steps you can take to thwart the thief from benefiting from your loss.

Keep records and make them available to law enforcement. Write down your phone information and keep it in a safe place. Your details should include the phone number, the make and model, the PIN or security lock code, as well as the serial number. The police can enter this information into a stolen property database, which will list you as the owner in the event the phone is recovered.

Immediately report the theft to the police. Law enforcement has access to sophisticated tracking technology that may pinpoint the location of your phone. Some victims make the mistake of contacting their service provider and having the phone disabled prior to calling the police. Deactivating the phone will prevent law enforcement from determining the exact location of your phone.

Use the security code or PIN feature to lock the phone. This will make it less valuable to a thief and can deny the thief access to personal information stored in the phone.

After notifying the police, victims should contact their service provider. Some phone companies may require proof that the phone was actually stolen, versus it being lost. A police report serves as evidence and will make your service provider more cooperative, especially if you end up having to contest a fraudulent phone bill.

If the police were not able to locate your phone within 24 hours, consider having the phone disabled at this point. Most thieves gain more benefit from the information stored in the phone, than from the sale of the phone itself.

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