CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thieves in Charlotte are increasingly targeting smartphones – snatching unattended phones from bar tables or cars and even robbing people of the devices, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Thursday.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say cellphone thefts have jumped nearly 24 percent through the first 10 months of this year compared with the same period last year. Robberies in which cellphones were taken jumped more than 33 percent.
Smartphones are both ubiquitous and expensive, making them easy targets for thieves. The Pew Internet and American Life Survey estimates that 56 percent of American adults – some 134.5 million people – have smartphones. The five top-selling smartphones in the United States all cost well more than $200; the most expensive go for as much as $700.
“People should think of their cellphone as currency in their hands, because that’s the way thieves think of it,” said CMPD Maj. Jeff Estes, who made the announcement about the uptick. “They can take a new-model, current-edition cellphone and steal it and turn it over into cash for hundreds of dollars in a matter of minutes.”
Cellphone thefts are surging nationwide. According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly 40 percent of thefts in New York City involve cellphones. They’re taken in 38 percent of all robberies in Washington, D.C.
smartphones typically contain sensitive chunks of their owners’ personal data. But Estes said most thieves try to erase data from the devices as quickly as possible. Some smartphones have been resold just hours after they were swiped at bars or restaurants. They end up in flea markets or at businesses that pay cash for used cellphones. Some are sold on the street.
Police say they try to track down stolen phones on a case-by-case basis but provided no details on how many arrests they’ve made. Usually, by the time they’re called, Estes said, the trail is cold.
Last year, cellphone carriers started a national database of stolen cellphones, which would prevent a phone entered into the database from being reactivated.
But Estes said smartphone owners can become tougher targets simply by keeping an eye on their cellphones.
He also recommended that cellphone owners download apps that help them locate lost or stolen phones and record a phone’s serial number and other identifying information so officers can trace it once it’s been stolen.