Mobile technology has developed at such a rapid rate in recent years that almost everyone now carries what amounts to a small computer in their pockets. The level of connectivity offered by these high-end devices has never been seen before and users are now able to carry out all kinds of tasks as well as enjoy entertainment services on the move. But whilst the days of ASCII text message images and playing ‘Snake’ have long gone, the increase in functionality has brought with it a new danger in the form of smartphone crime…
As mobile phones have evolved, the prices at which they retail has increased sharply owing to the raft of features they bring. Whilst mobiles have always been regarded as a desirable item, the advent of the smartphone has seen the humble mobile phone turn into a high-value piece of consumer technology with high-end devices such as the Apple iPhone becoming somewhat of a status symbol amongst users. Top of the range smartphones can command retail at prices in excess of £500 and this, combined with the fact that almost everybody will be carrying one is something that thieves are all too aware of. Since their inception in around 2007 — the first iPhone iteration is widely regarded as the device that galvanized the concept of the smartphone – crime attached to these devices as grown exponentially alongside their uptake. Of late, the type of criminal activity related to smartphones has largely centered on malware and data security but the main type of smartphone crime is undoubtedly theft.
London in particular has seen a rise in smart device thefts of late. The number of crimes committed on the Tube and Docklands Light Railway network increased last year by 6.5, something that the Metropolitan Police have attributed to thieves targeting “easily saleable high-tech devices such as smartphones and tablets”. Other figures suggest that up to 10,000 handsets per month are stolen in the capital and that teenagers and those in their early twenties are most likely to be victims. The reasons for these staggering numbers is said by experts to be the relatively low risk involved for thieves — many children have it instilled into them to relinquish their possessions without resistance if threatened – coupled with the ease in which stolen device can be sold on the black market. A stolen handset could fetch up to £150 when sold on depending on make and model, with few questions ever asked of the seller. It’s said that the majority of stolen handsets sold in this way eventually make their way to developing markets such the Middle East and Eastern Europe, via a middle man. The profiteering doesn’t end there though – Jack Wraith, chairman of the Mobile Industry Crime Action forum estimates that a high-end device containing personal information that could be used for identity theft purposes could fetch up to £1000 on the black market. Mayor of London Boris Johnson was concerned enough about these findings to write to the CEOs of the major handset manufacturers — Apple, Samsung, Nokia, HTC, BlackBerry and Motorola — to demand a technical solution to the ease of selling stolen device on that makes mobile theft such an enticing prospect to criminals. Johnson said in his letter that the police and criminal justice agencies “cannot tackle this by themselves,” and asked for technology producers to “play their part and work with us to help devise solutions to deter theft and help prevent crime.”
Media attention may have focused on London as a smartphone crime hotspot in the past few months but new research has emerged suggesting that the cities in which smartphones are most likely to be stolen are in fact Cardiff, Edinburgh and Hull. Data from gadget insurers Protect Your Bubble customer base indicates that the majority of claims from mobile owners for theft come from Cardiff (36%) and Edinburg (32%) whilst the east Yorkshire city of Hull accounts for 30% of the claims. The insurer’s findings also tally with the view that young people are most likely to fall victim of mobile theft; its data reveals that 21-25 are the age group that make the most claims for stolen smartphones. Stephen Ebbett, director of Protect Your Bubble, says Cardiff and Edinburgh might have such high incidences of mobile theft due to the substantial number of students in both cities: “Cardiff and Edinburgh’s big student populations could explain why these are hotspots for theft claims, as we know those in their early twenties are most likely to be victims of mobile theft.”
What to do if your smartphone is lost or stolen
If you find that your phone is missing it’s important to act straight away. Firstly, you should try and contact it either by texting or phoning from another device. If that doesn’t yield results, reporting the device as lost or stolen to both your network and the police should be your next action. Whilst letting your service provider know the phone is missing won’t necessarily help you retrieve the device, your carrier will place a bar on the phone to prevent whoever has it from running up a hefty bill. Contacting the police is also important as you’ll need to obtain a crime reference number from them in order to make an insurance claim. All the above mentioned advice is useful in incidences where a phone has been lost or stolen but there are many steps smartphone owners can take as preventative measures to avoid having their phones and data stolen. Passcodes and screenlocks should be the first port of call as they can thwart the attempts of anyone who finds or takes your phone from accessing your personal data. In the hands of experts however, passcodes can be easily overcome so it’s worth downloading one of the many remote access and tracking apps that can keep tabs on where your device is and even allow you to remotely wipe the data stored on the device. Most manufacturers already ‘bake in’ this functionality to their products — Apple’s iCloud service incorporates the ‘Find My iPhone’ service for example and HTC’s Sense UI provides similar functionality. The best advice however would be to keep a close eye on your gadgets and don’t draw unnecessary attention to the fact that you’re carrying and expensive piece of consumer electronics whilst walking alone in less than salubrious areas. Insurance is a good idea too. So, should we be worried about what is being presented as an epidemic of smartphone crime? The stats would indicate that we should but it’s worth bearing in mind that a rise in the numbers of smartphones will undoubtedly result in a rise in the number of smartphone thefts, just as thefts of ‘normal’ mobiles rose upon their mainstream acceptance in the late 90s. The measures being called for by senior officials should help combat this problem somewhat but until they are implemented, following the advice given here should keep you from being a victim.