“Apple Picking” – Don’t loose your iPhone

Smartphone theft, personal safety & data security

As the technology landscape changes, so does crime. A new trend in crime has picked up the catchy title of “Apple Picking,” which refers to the theft of iPhones and Smartphones, (even tablets), often right out of the hands of the user/owner.  Here’s some  scenarios that have happened:

  • A person is walking down the street, texting. A young male brushes alongside them (possibly from a skateboard) and grabs the phone right out of their hands.
  • You’re in a public space.  A friendly stranger approaches and explains the need for a favor – can they look up a bit of information on your phone?  After you agree and hand them your phone, they take off with it.
  • You’re sitting in a BART station, bus station, talking on your phone.  Someone (again, usually a young male), walks by, grabs the phone from your hands, and takes off. Here’s a video of an incident in Columbia, with a bit of instant karma – the thief gets run over by a bus while trying to get away: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNs6dDlVk-E

What to do?

So, what should you do?   This affects you on several fronts – your personal security, and also your data security.  None of us want to get our phones stolen, but it’s hardly worth getting seriously injured in the process, just like it doesn’t make sense to get a knife wound trying to keep your wallet. Don’t get killed for it.

The thief is probably stealing your phone for its resale value, but it may be part of an effort at identity theft. Because the Verizon’s and AT&T’s of the world have made it harder to resell stolen phones in the US, many stolen iPhone and Droids are shipped to consumers in Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe. The most current phones are the most attractive crime targets.  For you, it is the inconvenience, or expense, if you don’t have an insurance plan. According to the Pew Research Center, a stolen smartphone can cost up to $849 to replace.


1)      Have a password, passcode, passphrase, or something of the sort set on your phone. If your phone doesn’t have one now, stop reading now and go put one on.

2)      Make sure you’ve turned up your iCloud or Google account and have the music, photos, videos and the like backed up “to the cloud.”  That way, if you lose the phone, you haven’t lost your photo memories or music collection.

3)      Turn on the “Find my iPhone” feature on iPhones.  For Android phone users, get the app called “Plan B” from Lookout Labs.  Plan B is cool because it can be used on the phone after it has been stolen or lost!  There are several other good apps for keeping track of your phone like “Find My Phone

4)      For iPhones, through the “Lost Mode” you can lock the phone.  If your phone is under management (as in a business phone with a connection to an Exchange server) have the phone “bricked” – locks it up and erases the data on the phone. This is common on Blackberries and Android phones.

5)      Do report the loss to the police.  In San Francisco and New York City, Apple Picking has become about 40% of all thefts (FCC Report).  The California and New York District Attorneys have been pushing to have the phone companies do more to shut off stolen phones.

6)      Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Notice if people around you glance at you (which is the normal reaction when making eye-contact with a stranger), or if they seem to be watching you.

7)      Don’t flash your bling!  Just as you probably wouldn’t wave a wad of cash around in a public space, be discrete with your $400 phone, tablet or other high-end electronic device.

Just last month (May 2013), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) co-introduced the “Mobile Device Theft Deterrence Act” to increase the penalties for phone theft.

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