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.