Scottsdale PD: smartphone theft on the rise

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"Apple picking" is on the rise in many large cities across the United States, and we're not talking about plucking fruit from trees.

According to the New York Attorney General's Office, people in walking cities, including New York City and San Francisco, are being targeted for their smartphones.

In many cases, thieves are grabbing the devices right out of their owners' hands.

Nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco last year involved the theft of smartphones.

The number was 20 percent in the Big Apple and Consumer Reports estimates 1.6 million Americans were victimized by smartphones thieves in 2012.

A coalition called the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative is pressuring manufacturers to develop technology that will eliminate the incentive for theft.

While we aren't seeing many cases of "Apple Picking" in Arizona, law enforcement agencies said they are seeing an increase in the number of cases of stolen smartphones, especially in places like bars and nightclubs.

It all boils down to money.

Smartphones are easy to steal and thieves can make quick cash.

"Right now, the smart phone is like the perfect item to steal, because it's small and they can turn it really quick for a quick $200," said Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark. "It happens a lot in the (night) clubs, because you've got drinking and you've got the phones out."

Leave a phone on a bar top and before you know it, the phone is gone, even though it's essentially useless.

If the owner reports it stolen to their cell phone provider, it can't be activated by someone else.

"A thief doesn't care what's going to happen to the end user of this thing," said Ken Colburn with Data Doctors in Tempe. "They're going to steal it and they're going sell it for whatever they can, and then they're going to go on to sell the next one."

Colburn encourages the use of passwords and GPS tracking apps, including "Find My iPhone."

But, he also points out, those apps might be giving people a false sense of security.

"If a thief that knows what they're doing has stolen your phone, they're (GPS apps) almost useless," Colburn said.

Sgt. Clark told CBS 5 News until there isn't a market for secondhand smartphones, your best defense against theft is personal responsibility.

"Just think like, if you had two $100 bills would you leave it out on a table?" he said. "Because that's what a thief sees when they see the phone. They see $200."

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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