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Smartphone Mugging More Popular Than Ever 285

Posted by timothy
from the not-popular-like-dance-music-is-popular dept.
SternisheFan writes with this snippet from gizmodo: "The Associated Press reports that smartphone robberies now account for nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco, as well as an impressive 40 percent here in New York City. And the numbers aren't just high, they're getting higher fast. In Los Angeles, smartphone robberies are up 27 percent from last year, with no signs of slowing down. The thefts come in all varieties as well. Victims have reported having their phones—iPhones in particular (surprise!)—yanked out of their hands while talking, snatched just as public transit reaches a stop, or even taken at gunpoint." When I was relieved at gunpoint of my (very, very dumb) phone a few years ago in Philadelphia (very, very dumb), it made for a lousy evening. Have you been robbed (or accosted) like this? If so, where?
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Smartphone Mugging More Popular Than Ever

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  • Serial Numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archeopteryx (4648) * <benburch&pobox,com> on Saturday October 20, 2012 @08:20PM (#41718061) Homepage

    All of these phones know their serial numbers. Just make it totally impossible to ever register a stolen serial number for new service and this should slow way down.

    • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kronnek (982486) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @08:24PM (#41718097)
      They can just be sold in another country. Lots of stolen cars in Mexico and none are being run for vin/plates in America... Same thingin EU.
      • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @10:12PM (#41718721)

        They can just be sold in another country.

        Or they can be sold in San Jose, California, where it is legal to steal phones. My wife's iPhone was stolen, and when she called the SJPD, she was told that "We don't do cell phone thefts, just download the insurance form from our website. <click>"

        • Did you call their emergency number? Even if you did, they would have you report the incident online or in person. Hell, they did it for a $20 bicycle (+$5 lock) I had just purchased. I did not even have the serial number to report. They never found it of course, by they sure did take a complaint, which would be counted in all sorts of statistics.

          Just to make sure, I just tried to file a complaint at sjpd.org. I see a specific category called Cell Phone (asking for Brand, Model Serial number

        • Wonder how long that would last if you stole a politicians phone?
          • Kill them (Score:4, Interesting)

            by sycodon (149926) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @08:17AM (#41720957)

            I wonder how long it would last if the muggers started ending up dead. San Fran is a "gun free" zone. So the perps know their victims are probably not packing.

            Sure, it's just a cell phone and not worth taking someone's life. But that's not the issue. The issue is that the scum trying to take it from you definitely thinks a cell phone is worth taking YOUR life.

            • by ShakaUVM (157947)

              >San Fran is a "gun free" zone

              It's also a cop-free zone. When I got my car broken into there, I tried reporting it to the police, but they didn't want to hear about it: "We don't do police reports over the phone. You have to come in to a station." So I drive (broken window an all) to a station, and ring the damn doorbell for an hour until I finally get a cop to come out to talk to me. He doesn't care either, and says he doesn't understand why I'm reporting the crime to him. (I dunno - because it was a cr

        • It sounds like you and your wife think the police are there to serve you. I can assure you this is not the role they fulfill in society.

        • If you want things done by the police, have a lawyer send them a letter.
        • by irving47 (73147)

          That's horrible. Most new iPhones are worth $600 minimum. Most states would consider that grand theft, since it's over $500, right?

        • by tompaulco (629533)
          just download the insurance form from our website.
          And of course, the insurance company will not pay out unless you have filed a police report. But that is okay, even if they do pay out, the deductible is nearly the same cost as a new phone. Phone Insurance is almost as bad a scam as someone stealing it from you.
        • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Kookus (653170) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @10:45AM (#41721583) Journal

          You know you can take a black-listed phone into verizon stores and they'll give you a refurb?
          The story of: "I bought it on craigslist and it won't register" works wonders.

          I was amazed that even worked, and pissed off at the same time. My phone was stolen out of my office, and I figured blacklisting it would bring me vengeance... wrong.

          My wife's nook was stolen at the same time. She blacklisted it. Then had a book purchased on her account 6 hours later... She called in again and said wtf? They told her that whoever blacklisted it for her didn't do it (hard to find competent people).

          So that gives another reason to think that blacklisting doesn't work, because the damn idiots don't punch it into their computers.

          I also got a buddy at work who's from China. He has family back in China that actively engage in acquiring broken electronics. iPhones are great. Blacklisted, broken, who cares? They strip the things down and make their own refurbs good as new and resell them.

          So yeah, unless Police actually crack down on this, then the only other way to curb this activity is if the phone physically blows up and kills/maims the people stealing them while people cheer on the spectacle.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      IMEI blacklists are widely used in Europe. The problem is that, at least in Norway, few people actually bother to have the IMEI blacklisted if the phone is stolen. I get this impression from a number of forum posts where people seem oblivious to the possibility, and also other people openly admitting to be using stolen phones without being blocked (or visited by the police, even though they use a SIM registered in their name...).

      • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

        by icebike (68054) * on Saturday October 20, 2012 @08:50PM (#41718255)

        IMEI blacklists are widely used in Europe. The problem is that, at least in Norway, few people actually bother to have the IMEI blacklisted if the phone is stolen.

        In the US the vast majority of phones are purchased thru carriers. They already have your IMEI on file.

        The FCC has finally gotten the four big carriers to start blocking IMEI numbers [digitaltrends.com] of stolen phones. You simply go back to your carrier and tell them you need a new phone because your old one was stolen. They will automatically add the stolen phone to t a nation wide database of stolen phones. It takes no effort on the users part.

        While new IMEIs can be programmed into stolen handsets, the thieves don't have the skills to do this, (if they did they would be in a safer more profitable line of work). They just use the stolen phone till it dies and then steal a new one. I suppose some thieves work for rings exporting their wares to foreign countries.

        • Most carriers are the ones footing the bill. I wonder how many stolen phones turn over to paying accounts?

          My opinion is that most are either sold for money for drugs, or they are used by drug dealers until the phone is turned off... If "bad people" are using them, chances are law enforcement wants the phones left active to see where they go.

          • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:4, Interesting)

            by EdIII (1114411) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @09:59PM (#41718639)

            Yes, but what is that duration? 20 minutes?

            When my phone was stolen in a diner after walking way from it for maybe two minutes before walking back for it, I had it shut down within 10-15 minutes from another phone.

            Even assuming there is a network where a standing order is made to purchase a stolen phone for use, there would still be time required for the logistics of shipping and fulfillment. I just can't see with how important and well used smart phone are, that the window for usage by drug dealers or other criminals would be large enough to be economically viable for all involved.

            • by icebike (68054) *

              If You had the sim deactivated, the phone can still be usable by simply putting in a new sim, and perhaps jail breaking the phone. The phone still has value.
              When IMEI numbers of stolen phones are universally banned, stolen phones have no value.
              See the difference?

              • by EdIII (1114411)

                How does that work for phones with no sim card like CDMA phones with Verizon?

        • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 21, 2012 @08:49AM (#41721047)

          While new IMEIs can be programmed into stolen handsets, the thieves don't have the skills to do this,

          Ok, you seem to have little experience of how organised criminals really are. It is true, your average pickpocket/thief doesn't have the skills, but he'll know a man who does...

          The current cost of the basic iphone 5 off the UK apple store is £529
          Now, say, for example I'm a 'legitimate businessman' running a mobile phone repair shop and have the technical knowledge and capabilities of reprogramming the IMEI number of said stolen device to, say, that of another phone I've gotten as a trade-in. I know some of the more 'boisterous' youths nearby and say casually that I'll give them £300 for every iphone 5 (or whatever the current poseur phone of choice is) they get me, no questions asked. I reprogram them with 'legitimate' IMEI numbers from my supply of trade-in phones (which is a crime in the UK, but hey...), sell it for £450, they get monies, I get monies, customer gets a phone at what they think is a bargain price...

          This is how it operates, the thieves steal these items and then pass them on up the chain to those who do have the technical capabilities to deal with them. I've been a victim of card theft, it was explained to me how well organised the system was there (person stealing the card wouldn't have been the one to use it, but might get up to a couple of hundred quid depending on card type by selling it to handler/specialist, who then organises the purchases to be made using the card in such a manner as they get the maximum usage out of it before it is blacklisted.).

          Fagin may be a fictional character, but the criminal structures/fraternities Dickens wrote about still exist in merrie old London..especially 'sarth of the river'.

      • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:4, Interesting)

        by buchanmilne (258619) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @01:19AM (#41719533) Homepage

        In South Africa, if you claim for a stolen phone, the insurance company will request the IMEI as part of their claim processing, and they will have the IMEI blacklisted on a database shared by all the local mobile operators.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Just make it totally impossible to ever register a stolen serial number for new service and this should slow way down.

      You'll stop the idiots who steal phones and keep them for personal use.
      Everything else will just end up overseas.
      End result: thieves will make a little bit less money selling to the black market, in order to cover the overhead from exporting the phones.

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        IIRC, CDMA and our form of LTE is not compatible overseas. Only a few smart phones are marketed as global phones. I used to have a BB that was made for that purpose.

        Phones that are compatible overseas are not the majority of the market.

        • IIRC, CDMA and our form of LTE is not compatible overseas.

          That may be so but quite a lot of the iPhones made now have GSM chips in them that work just fine for data and voice overseas - all of the AT&T iPhones ever made, and every iPhone since the iPhone 4 will work overseas with data (even the ones sold to work with CDMA carriers like Verizon).

          Not being able to use LTE in some countries is to really that much a roadblock to selling them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spacerodent (790183)
      It's extremely easy to reprogram the IMEIs or MEIDs. Anyone who can install a copy of windows can manage it with some of the readily available free software floating about for "research purposes"
      • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 20, 2012 @10:32PM (#41718821)

        These are smartphones though. I don't think it's been possible to change the IMEI of an iDevice since the original Edge iPhone. Even then the program used (ziPhone) could fail spectacularly and brick the device. No experience with Android devices here so I cannot comment on the feasibility of reprogramming those IMEIs. It's basically impossible on iDevices though unless the thieves have access to exploits and tools that the jailbreak community do not.

        Capcha: mugging

      • by jon3k (691256)
        Extremely easy for you probably, but not for 99% of the people stealing cellphones, I can guarantee you.
        • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

          by russotto (537200) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @10:58PM (#41718949) Journal

          Extremely easy for you probably, but not for 99% of the people stealing cellphones, I can guarantee you.

          Unfortunately, there are people in the criminal world who specialize in doing things other criminals cannot; chop shop operators reduce cars to parts for resale, fences resell stolen property, money launderers of various sorts make ill-gotten gains look legitimate. I suspect that were IMEI blacklisting to become ubiquitous, we would see criminals specializing in reprogramming IMEIs. Might slow the torrent of theft, though.

    • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 20, 2012 @09:04PM (#41718339)

      In Australia all the carriers refer to a single database of stolen phones (via IMEI number), and smartphone theft (mugging style) is almost non-existant here.

    • I know they don't, but law enforcement should be able to give it a go at recovering the phones via GPS. Even if they just hired one guy to do it, they'd recover a bunch of phones and people would be happy. Of course if the phone was stolen at gun point, it could be risky business for this guy to do his job.
    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      Just make it totally impossible to ever register a stolen serial number for new service and this should slow way down.

      Why? And turn away a new contract?

      Back in the 90's this was the norm. They'd match the ESN against a database of reportedly stolen numbers. They don't give a flying fuck anymore and would rather get a new subscriber and contract than do anything to protect the lives and well being of the peons, err... current subscribers already locked into contracts.

    • The parts still have value.

    • Re:Serial Numbers (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 20, 2012 @11:58PM (#41719241)

      Serial No. You mean IMEI? Imei can be changed. MAC address? MAC address can be changed. SIM Lock? SIM lock can be unlock.

      If you just search less than 15 minutes. You can find a horde of tools available at your disposal. They even have tools that can changed the active frequency of your baseband-RF processor so it operate in the frequency of your choice. I saw a SIM card that when you put onto locked phone. This is automatically unlock it for you. They sell this SIM card for about US$ 5 for 10 times running (before the program self destruct on the SIM card).

      This can be seen "clearly" in my country. Where they still sell Blackberry 8310 as a new phone. This is the phone that counterfeited in china. And they came with a tools where you can change all of the above. The store that sell it even make a promise that the BB PIN code wouldn't be blocked by BB server at RIM office (or you can get full refund if they can't make it unblock).

      Especially if you able to get into China phone BBS. They even teach you a lot of stuff that supposed to be done in the phone factories only. (Even unbricking a bricked phone using JTAG connection). They trade the latest firmware, schematics, tool, tips there.

      So blocking Serial No. is easy to circumvent.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What, everyone got their smartphone robbed?

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @08:23PM (#41718089) Journal

    Most folks take one look at my crappy company-issued Blackberry Curve, and go look for better pickings (figuring that anyone still carryiong one of these probably doesn't have any money either).

    I guess even criminals have more self-respect these days than to be seen trying to fence a entry-level crackberry.

  • Why can't the cell phone company just brick your phone? I have an iPhone, and it can brick if I jailbreak wrong, so why can't I just call the carrier, tell them it's stolen, and have it bricked. Or like someone else said, never have that phone allowed to register again? Don't they do that over in Europe.
    • by amorsen (7485)

      It is completely ineffective in Europe. Those anti-theft applications sometimes work though, taking pics of the criminals. Most of the time the police cannot help though, because the law in Denmark at least does not allow the police to search an entire apartment block. GPS is not accurate enough to show which apartment the phone is in.

      • by Sulphur (1548251)

        It is completely ineffective in Europe. Those anti-theft applications sometimes work though, taking pics of the criminals. Most of the time the police cannot help though, because the law in Denmark at least does not allow the police to search an entire apartment block. GPS is not accurate enough to show which apartment the phone is in.

        Will the newer location services help?

    • by edmudama (155475)

      If they did that, they couldn't charge the thief for a new contract, and you for early termination.

    • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @09:15PM (#41718395)
      This has been brought up before. In Europe it's common to do this and theft rates are down. Thieves don't bother stealing them because the phone will be worthless within a couple hours. In the USA however, carriers have realized that theft makes them money. Victims have to buy a new phone to replace the stolen one. Carriers have a financial disincentive to brick stolen phones or assist victims in any way. Hopefully the government will make the choice for the carriers and force them to brick stolen phones in order to curb the growing crime. It's an easy way for any politician to reduce crime and win points for reelection.
      • by Legion303 (97901)

        It's not about winning points for reelection, it's about giving the perfect blowjob to their corporate masters. Teeth-scraping in the form of "forcing" corporations to do anything isn't going to help these politicians.

    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      They could, but this is the US you're talking about. Money reigns supreme in the land of the free. Lots of other countries don't provide the same freedom to be fucked over.
  • Most thieves simply use the phone until it gets disconnected, then throw it away and steal another one. Others sell them used on Ebay and Craigslist - once they get your money, they don't really care that you can't get service with it. The FCC is considering requiring the carriers to brick phones that are reported stolen, but that doesn't stop any of the above from happening. Smart thieves are stealing your personal data off your phone and re-selling that for a few extra bucks, or selling batches of them t
    • I can't imagine that anyone would steal a phone that's only going to be good for a couple hours, which is about as long as they'll be active for if the FCC passes those regulations.
  • Just barf on it, and they'll find someone else to rob.

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @09:23PM (#41718445)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Mobile_Equipment_Identity#Blacklist_of_stolen_devices [wikipedia.org]

    Hey, how about that. An existing solution. It's not perfect, but it'd make it a bit harder than just throwing the iPhone on craigslist - especially since they'd have to modify the sticker on the phone as well, and if they didn't, it'd be proof the phone was stolen.

    Let's not forget that the reason these people steal phones is because there's a market - plenty of other people happy to get a phone cheap off craigslist.

    • by lucm (889690)

      Let's not forget that the reason these people steal phones is because there's a market - plenty of other people happy to get a phone cheap off craigslist.

      They don't just sell stolen phones on Craigslist: I paid $35 for an iPhone that came with lots of music and cool pictures and the seller said it was not stolen. It was a real bargain because I was able to trade some of the pictures for a discount membership on nakedgirlfriend.com and I also used the music to prepare a nice mixtape for my neighbor's quinceañera.

  • by Karlt1 (231423) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @09:35PM (#41718517)

    Oh well, I have karma to burn.....

    http://www.theiphonespot.net/muggers-dont-want-android-tend-to-go-for-iphone-owners/ [theiphonespot.net]

    "A pair of would-be robbers targeting Columbia students in upper Manhattan seem to be rather picky as they prowl. Twice at 526 114th St., and once at 556 114th St., the suspects demanded the victims hand over their iPhones, police said. The first victim complied, but the second only had a Droid, according to police. The thieves apparently didn't want a Droid â" so they took cash instead."

  • Seems to me that IMEI blackilisting after a theft is one thing, but why not allow people to pre-emptively opt in to locking their IMEI so that it can't be used with another account without some additional authentication (a it like registrar locking for domains)?

    Obviously not everyone would want it (ie people who switch sims etc) but for a lot of people it would make sense as a default.
  • While the IMEI may help track down the theft of an iPhone, the serial number doesn't. Apple's policy is that they support the product not the user, and that theft of property is a police matter.
    • by CaptBubba (696284)

      Simply put Apple could nearly completely kill the theft market for iPhones, similarly to how integrated ignition immobilizers have drastically cut hotwire thefts of late model cars. If a reported iPhone would stop functioning as a smart phone (still allowing emergency calls) if someone attempted to connect it with an Apple service (app store, maps, etc) the market for stolen iPhones would evaporate overnight. They could also kill the whole problem with people reassigning IMEI numbers: IMEI and serial don't

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by White Flame (1074973)

        iPhone theft inclines the victim to purchase a new phone. Deterring iPhone theft would reduce that purchasing pressure. It doesn't matter to Apple if they get paid out of pocket or from an insurance payout.

        • But the software industry has been telling us for years, that if we stop the thieves from thieving, they will go on and just buy the software through the proper channels.. Surely, these thieves will just give up, and go buy phones at a local store, right??

  • Opportunity Makes the Thief [skywallnet.com]: By the saturation stage, most people who really want the product have it, and thefts decline. For example, video cassette and CD players are now so common that they cost relatively little and offer few rewards to the thief; hand calculators sell for a few dollars and are mostly safe on your desk with the door open.

  • Here in south-western Florida, it seems purloined phones aren't too popular among thugs. Two friends who were mugged on the same street on separate occasions both still had their phones after they'd been beaten lightly (I love that string). They both lost their wallets and one lost his bike, but not their phones. Others have lost their lives, but I don't know about their phones. This is, after all, the place where two British tourists were killed for no apparent reason. [telegraph.co.uk]

    Perhaps it's time to begin integrat
  • by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @10:10PM (#41718705)

    In all seriousness, I read this headline initially as a story about phones inspiring ever-increasing amounts of smirky posing.

  • Much like the submitter whoever would mug me for my phone would be VERY disappointed.

    "Well...at least it has Texas Hold 'Em..."

  • News Flash! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016)

    When you wave an expensive item around, you attract attention....

    Also it is Apples fault for allowing Stolen iphones to continue to operate. If you were able to go home and log into your apple account and set the phone to "STOLEN" so the phone only shows on the screen "STOLEN PROPERTY, CALL XXX-XXX-XXXX to return it" the street value of them would drop to $0.00

    But apple chooses to not let this ability that would be trivial to put in place to exist.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What The Holy F-ck ... have you not heard of "Find My iPhone"?

      It does *exactly* this behaviour. And I have a colleague at work who used it 2 months ago.

      They located the house where the phone was, made it play a loud sound, and heard it in the front bedroom. Rang the doorbell, and got shooed away. Went to the local (Australian) police station, whereupon a detective jumped in a car, went straight back to the house, and put the heavy word on the residents.

      They got the phone back.

  • This is one reason I won't put a bank app on my phone.
    • by omglolbah (731566)

      Why? Would they have your personal password and SIM pin code?
      That is what is required to log into my banking app...

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday October 20, 2012 @11:56PM (#41719231) Homepage Journal
    Just make the casing out of C4 instead of brushed aluminum! Then, like 15 minutes after he steals it, send the code to detonate it! Problem solved!
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 21, 2012 @03:26AM (#41720023) Homepage

    A device that 1) has a data link to the outside world, 2) has a GPS receiver, and 3) has a microphone ought to be far riskier to steal. Something is not right here.

    You should be able to log into your phone account from another device and retrieve the location of the phone, Maybe listen in and record calls from your phone, too.

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