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iPhone thefts aren’t just on the rise: according to the SFPD, they’re the number one type of robbery being reported.

The thefts are usually quick and dirty, and tend toward Muni corridors and at bus stops, where iPhone (and iPod) users are absorbed in their device; texting, reading email or playing games to pass time. Thieves tend to target victims they perceive as weaker; smaller or less able to fight back, unsure of their location, or so busy texting up their frenz they miss the bus completely. (That’s happened to you. Busted.) The more absorbed you are in your mini-computer, the less likely you are to see a thief coming, be able to defend yourself, or recognize them later.

“The loss of the phone itself is not the biggest deal, but people are getting hurt,” says Park Station’s Officer Brian Rodriguez. Just last week, iPhone robberies included hair pulling, body checking, and the slightly lower-impact pointing giant gun at neck.

Stereotypical notions of “good” and “bad” neighborhoods or Muni lines don’t really seem to apply to this crime rash; one victim in idyllic Cole Valley was texting at a bus stop on Parnassus Avenue when a thief ran up to her, grabbed her phone, and fled in an unidentified vehicle. In these cases it can be difficult to apprehend a suspect, because victims aren’t paying attention to their surroundings, meaning you don’t get a close look at the attacker before they’re running away with your device.

The demand for iPhones/iPods is significantly higher, according to Rodriguez, than for other devices. The police are investigating the possibility the surge in thefts are related; they are beginning to identify fencing operations through stings, and officers in the Tenderloin and Southern districts have made some arrests to this end.

It is unclear how the phones are wiped and repurposed once stolen, but the scale of iPhone theft is enough to indicate an underground market beyond a local scope. “I don’t know if they’re put on a crate and shipped to another country or what, but there’s a big demand,” Rodriguez says.

It remains important to be aware of your surroundings, walk with purpose, and rock the white headphones at your own risk.

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  • cedichou

    each phone is identifiable by the network, it should be so easy to at least disable a stolen phone. Beats me why it hasn’t been implemented years ago.

  • cedichou

    each phone is identifiable by the network, it should be so easy to at least disable a stolen phone. Beats me why it hasn’t been implemented years ago.

  • Megan Allison

    I know, it’s curious. I wanted to know more from the cops about how the phones are repurposed since iPhones are so married to the Apple overlords. I think I’ll have to dig deeper with the investigative units that have more technical expertise.

  • Megan Allison

    I know, it’s curious. I wanted to know more from the cops about how the phones are repurposed since iPhones are so married to the Apple overlords. I think I’ll have to dig deeper with the investigative units that have more technical expertise.

  • Richmondsfblog

    If you ride public transit etc. probably a good idea to invest in MobileMe which has a “Find my iPhone” feature. I’ve read a few stories where people and cops have recovered phones this way, using it to pinpoint the phone (and the perp) to a location. Here’s one:

    http://gizmodo.com/5349161/find-my-iphone-leads-cops-to-robbery-suspects

  • Richmondsfblog

    If you ride public transit etc. probably a good idea to invest in MobileMe which has a “Find my iPhone” feature. I’ve read a few stories where people and cops have recovered phones this way, using it to pinpoint the phone (and the perp) to a location. Here’s one:

    http://gizmodo.com/5349161/find-my-iphone-leads-cops-to-robbery-suspects

  • kl2real

    I was thinking of the “Find My iPhone” feature, too. Another nice benefit of the feature is the ability to wipe data from the phone remotely, so that if it’s stolen all your personal information doesn’t fall into the hands of a criminal. Imagine somebody having your entire address book, calendar and email.

    Still, I’ve been fine with my iPhone. I think awareness of your surroundings is the main defense. Street Smarts 101 stuff.

  • kl2real

    I was thinking of the “Find My iPhone” feature, too. Another nice benefit of the feature is the ability to wipe data from the phone remotely, so that if it’s stolen all your personal information doesn’t fall into the hands of a criminal. Imagine somebody having your entire address book, calendar and email.

    Still, I’ve been fine with my iPhone. I think awareness of your surroundings is the main defense. Street Smarts 101 stuff.

  • BStriddy

    Speaking from experience, neither Apple nor AT&T give a damn that your iPhone has been stolen. Sure, you’ve filed a police report. Yes, they can easily identify the stolen goods on their network because each iPhone has a unique ID. They just don’t care.

    On the contrary, it’s probably good for both of them because whomever ends up with your stolen phone becomes one more iPhone user, one more user of the service that only AT&T sells. And you probably buy a new one, too. Everybody wins but you.

    Yes, MobileMe provides tracking of your iPhone and the ability to perform a remote wipe of its data. That’s nice, but using Find My iPhone as a theft insurance policy is about as practical as playing the lottery as an investment strategy. There’s a chance it’ll pay off, it just happens to be vanishingly slim.

  • BStriddy

    Speaking from experience, neither Apple nor AT&T give a damn that your iPhone has been stolen. Sure, you’ve filed a police report. Yes, they can easily identify the stolen goods on their network because each iPhone has a unique ID. They just don’t care.

    On the contrary, it’s probably good for both of them because whomever ends up with your stolen phone becomes one more iPhone user, one more user of the service that only AT&T sells. And you probably buy a new one, too. Everybody wins but you.

    Yes, MobileMe provides tracking of your iPhone and the ability to perform a remote wipe of its data. That’s nice, but using Find My iPhone as a theft insurance policy is about as practical as playing the lottery as an investment strategy. There’s a chance it’ll pay off, it just happens to be vanishingly slim.

  • GlenParker

    I like to walk around with the stock white earphones on but not connected to my Iphone. My hand is in my pocket holding my Colt auto. I keep waiting for someone to think I’m preoccupied and try something but so far no luck. One would think that living in the Mission I’d see some action.

  • GlenParker

    I like to walk around with the stock white earphones on but not connected to my Iphone. My hand is in my pocket holding my Colt auto. I keep waiting for someone to think I’m preoccupied and try something but so far no luck. One would think that living in the Mission I’d see some action.