Cellphones Trending as Choice Loot for Thieves NR12174pv

April 13, 2012

Los Angeles:  Police in downtown Los Angeles have noticed an emerging trend in cellphone thefts.  For the first quarter of this year, thefts of cellphones have increased 32 percent in the downtown area.  In the one-mile square area of Skidrow, the increase is even more pronounced.

Individuals reported 54 cellphones taken in crimes from within Skidrow for the first quarter, compared to 115 all of 2011.  “If that trend continues, we’d see an increase in of 144% by the end of 2012,” explained Lt. Paul Vernon, commanding officer of the Central Detective Division.  “It made us ask, what’s going on?”

The downtown Fashion District registered 27 cellphones taken for all of last year, and 10 have already been reported by the first quarter of this year.  The area near 5th and Broadway, which has seen an upswing in street sales of prescription pills, has seen 7 phones taken this year, compared to 13 for all of 2011.

“We think the reason is the iPhone and the similar smart-type phones are becoming more prevalent,” Lt. Vernon explained.  “A crook can snatch an iPhone, replace the SIM card with one from a pay-as-you-go phone, and have a brand new, latest-generation phone for himself.”

In past generations of phones, once stolen, the service could be turned off and the phone, for the most part, was useless.  On newer phones, changing the SIM card is like changing the service, and if a pay-as-you-go SIM is put in the phone, there is no record of the user with a service provider.

“The phone companies don’t really care about this flaw because if the phone gets stolen, the victim will buy another phone, and crook will keep using the one he stole,” Lt. Vernon added.

Thefts of phones from restaurant tables, libraries, and nightclubs are becoming more common as crooks see an unattended smart phone and grab it, then convert it for their use or sell it.  Men and women were equally likely to have their phones taken, according to the most recent crime statistics for downtown.  Thefts of phones in home burglaries and car burglaries have declined, which can be explained by drivers remembering to remove phones from the cars.

“Smartphones have become a mobile office and even the homeless can have Email and access to the internet for movies and information,” Lt. Vernon said.  “Phones are changing the world and the profile of crime.”

In 2011, cellphones were reported taken in 12 percent of all the robberies, thefts, and burglaries combined.  They are the second most commonly stolen item, after money.

Police recommend the follow to reduce one’s chances of having a cellphone taken:

Remove all cellphones and electronic items from cars when you exit and lock the car
Keep cellphones in pockets, purses or on carriers, rather than setting them down on tables
Don’t text and walk or walk and talk.  Your attention is away from your surroundings and it makes you an easy mark for a thief
Don’t lend your phone for use unless you really know the person and trust they will hand it back

Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477). Tipsters may also contact Crime Stoppers by texting to phone number 274637 (C-R-I-M-E-S on most keypads) with a cell phone.  All text messages should begin with the letters “LAPD.”  Tipsters may also go to LAPDOnline.org, click on "webtips" and follow the prompts.