According to San Francisco police, mostly half of all robberies in San Francisco this year is cell-phone related and these are happening frequently in busy transit lines of the City.
In a recent such incident, a thief snatched the smartphone of an unsuspecting victim and ran to the rear of the bus quickly. In another incident, a robber grabbed an iPhone from a bus rider while she was having a conversation on the phone.
Another example happened in Oakland, where Dan Kalb, a City Council candidate, was robbed by armed hooligans taking away his iPhone after attending a neighborhood anti-crime meeting.
“I thought he is going to shoot me” Dan Kalb said.
The incidents mentioned above are just but some of the wave of robberies happening all around the country.
In New York City, police reports show that more than 40 percent of robberies targeted cell phones. And in Los Angeles, reports of cell phone robberies reached up to 27 percent compared to a similar report a year ago.
San Francisco Police Capt Joe Garrity said that today’s cell phone robberies are the modern equivalent of the old purse-snatching. “A lot of younger folks seem to put their entire lives on these things that don’t come cheap,” he said.
High end smartphones that stores photos, music, private e-mails and bank account statements are the targets of these cell phone thieves. Law enforcement agencies and wireless carriers nationwide looking for solutions have spent millions of dollars in trying to contain the ever growing crime.
Police departments in both San Francisco and Oakland have launched an awareness campaign warning the residents to be wary of possible cell phone thieves. A transit ad campaign is used by both departments.
After a young chef from the Museum of Modern Art in New York was killed on the way home by robbers targeting his iPhone, the city’s police had started urging iPhone 5 owners to register their new devices with the department.
A more ambitious ordinance is being proposed in St. Louis to discourage thieves from cashing in on their prize. The said ordinance would require anybody who resells cell phones to get secondhand dealers license. Resellers would also be required to get as many details as possible from a seller including, but not limited to, copy of a driver’s license, names, addresses, and even thumbprints.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said: “It will take a national solution to make this problem go away.”
Experts are saying the yearly cell phone losses account to billions of dollars in total, although there is no clear figure on the number of mobiles stolen year after year.
That does not mean though that the problem has escaped the attention of lawmakers and regulators looking into the issue of bourgeoning cell phone theft.
Last April, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly revealed that that mobile carriers and the Federal Communications Commission have agreed to make a database to track stolen cell phones that were reported. They planned to begin by late 2013.
Schumer pushed a bill called Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act, proposing to give a sentence of five-year for those guilty of tampering the ID numbers of a reported stolen cell phone. Supporters of the bill include the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association(CTIA).
Additionally, CTIA officials will be launching individual databases later this October to allow carriers to permanently disable a reported stolen cell phone. Such strategy had been introduced in Australia and has been working effectively for many years now.
Mobile carriers in the U.S. were previously allowed to disable only the SIM cards, which can be easily replaced. The strategy is apparently not effective as the black market for stolen cell phones have grown remarkably.
CTIA’s vice-president Chris Guttman-McCabe said that the main objective of creating the databases was to make stolen cell phones worthless.
“We want to dry up the aftermarket. Hopefully, there will be no sense in stealing a phone and a once valuable piece of hardware will essentially turn into useless metal,” he said.
Interestingly, many cities with some of the highest rates of stolen mobiles also belong to FBI’s list of U.S. cities with the highest crime rates like Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, and Newark.