iPhone 5 Buyers Beware: Smartphone Related Theft on The Rise

Jane* was walking up Gates Avenue in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, after a long day of work. With her iPhone 4S cupped to her ears as usual, she called her boyfriend to discuss dinner options. The next thing she remembers is dropping to one knee to recover from a blow to the side of her head. Standing over her was a young man with her cell phone now in his possession. “If you scream, I’m gonna hurt you,” he threatened. The man turned and jogged casually up the block and around the corner.

“It happened a few steps from the entrance to my building so I felt really unsafe and violated,” Jane remembers. “I was mad at myself too for being so off guard.”

As rampant as iCrime has been with every new iPhone model release comes an even bigger upsurge of thefts. So with iPhone 5 releasing in stores, iCrimes are sure to rise yet again. In fact, the phenomenon of “Apple Picking” as some authorities refer to it, has led to thieves banding together to form rings of phone snatchers and fencers. Authorities insist it will be worse when the iPhone 5 officially hits the streets.

With Apple reporting that iPhone sales reached 218 million this past March – and the company selling its 55 millionth iPad by the end of 2011 – there’s plenty to go around for potential sidewalk bandits. The high demand for Apple’s groundbreaking technology also makes it easier for thieves to liquidate the stolen goods. Even hot iPhones can net at least a couple of hundred dollars in the street.

This past July, Bianca* was walking home from the subway not too far from where Jane was accosted when she witnessed an iPhone jacking. “A good amount of people were walking from the train because it was a bit past rush hour,” she recalls. “I noticed a young kid on a bike riding along the street eyeing people, sort of sizing them up. He locked in on one woman who was talking on her iPhone, standing on the curb. He rode up next to her and just snatched the phone and took off on his bike. A few people tried to chase him, but he was gone.”

These “iCrimes” aren’t only occurring in NYC. Irene* was assaulted for her iPhone twice last winter in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco. “The first time it happened I was coming home from work,” she says. “I was listening to music on my iPhone and this kid, who appeared to be in his late teens, runs up to me and snatches my phone. Out of reaction, I grabbed it back and threw out my leg and kicked him. He was so startled he ran off.”

The second time, two weeks later, she wasn’t so lucky. “I was walking to work around 9 a.m. and as I was trying to put my phone away in my bag,” says Irene. “This guy comes out of nowhere and punches me in the stomach. I fell immediately and he took my phone and ran off. My phone was stolen this time because the perpetrator got physical.”

According to police, the holidays are a prime time for mobile thefts. And the iPhone 5 is sure to be a hot ticket again this year. “When I went to the police station to file the report, I was told that the area I live in had the most reported iPhone thefts and it was becoming increasingly rampant since it was the holiday season,” Irene remembers. “The cop told me, ‘People are getting desperate.’ Coincidentally, the same week the second crime happened to me, the SF Chronicle ran a story on iCrimes and the first line read: Your smart phone might get you punched in the face.”

Similar to NYC, San Francisco experienced extreme gentrification over the past 20 years, causing somewhat of a lull in crime. The Mission District, Fillmore and other San Francisco hoods saw a drop in crime and a hike in rent rivaling and sometimes surpassing New York’s. The Tenderloin will always be grimy and New York will always be New York, but by and large things remained mostly calm for the early 2000s. But then the recession hit in 2008. In San Francisco robberies and violence climbed in 2009 and are projected to be higher in 2012 with murders almost doubling in three years.

The problem in NYC may be even worse than the NYPD is letting on. Allegedly, the NYPD has been fudging the stats of certain crimes in their precincts, as reported in the Village Voice. There’s an ongoing investigation about figures being manipulated to give the appearance that violent crimes and robberies are down. The opposite may be closer to the truth.

Even with some manipulation, the numbers are excessive:

ROBBERIES: Brooklyn:
– Week of 8/3/12- 8/10/12 at the 88th precinct in Fort Green reported 20 felonies. 18 of these were robberies and grand larceny.
-Week prior 7/27/12-8/2/12 the same precinct reported 25 felonies. 21 were robberies.

ROBBERIES: Lower East Side:

-Robberies in the 7th Precinct are up so far in 2012 with a reported 72 robberies so far this year compared to about 51 last summer. Car thefts are also up.

Though it’s been a nationwide phenomenon, these two New York neighborhoods have an interesting dynamic due to the close proximity its poorer original inhabitants have to upper middle class and wealthy new arrivals.

“I had a friend move here from Colorado,” recounts Derrick Perry, who lives on Franklin Avenue in the grey area between Bed Stuy and Fort Greene. “He got off the plane, took the train and got robbed walking from the subway to my house. He wasn’t in New York for more than two hours and they took his iPhone, broad daylight.”

Another dynamic that doesn’t help matters is that, like Perry’s Colorado visitor, many residents who aren’t born and bred New Yorkers aren’t aware of how to avoid theft. “As a kid growing up in the city you know not to get too lippy with anyone pointing a weapon at you,” says Sal Amadeo, a local restaurateur. “But I always told my kids to keep their mouths shut, get a good look of the guy and pass them anything they ask for. ‘Materials can always be replaced,’ I tell them.”

To combat the rising crime rates in their jurisdiction, police in the 88th and 79th have placed officers on several corners they deemed “trouble spots.”
“We’re trying to maintain a presence to deter crime, especially robbery,” explains Deputy Inspector Anthony Tasso. “But it definitely doesn’t help your cause if you’re nose is stuck in your iPhone or iPad without a clue as to who is behind you or walking up on your right… People sometimes are just completely unaware.”

With the national unemployment rate still hovering around 9% and making a painfully slow recovery and the Barclays Center opening in Brooklyn—meaning more activity and people coming in and out of the borough—thefts could get worse before they get better. In the meantime, like Q Tip advised on “Rap Promoter,” “Be alert, look alive and act like you know…”

*Name was changed at individual’s request

Photo via CBS

Written By J. Pablo