Cellphones, smartphones in particular, have spiked crime all across the nation. Smartphones have become a target for theft, burglary and robbery. The pervasiveness of these devices and their attractiveness are only two factors that have caused this crime spike, there are also systemic factors to consider.
As the sales of smartphones increase, so too has the number of crimes related to the device. Right now, the value of stolen devices is very high because systems are not in place to diminish their resale value. An iPhone, for example, can be resold for $300-$400 on the black market. In addition to the phone itself, the data can be resold to identity thieves or used for fraudulent activities.
Up until this month, when a smartphone was stolen in the US, a thief could simply install a new SIM card and use the device. The inability to lock down stolen devices has been a huge systemic factor in the growth of device crime. Another issue with Apple devices is that the warranty is tied to devices, not owned, so thieves have been able to get damaged devices replaced by Apple.
When it comes down to tracking stolen devices, most smartphones have many apps available, some of which can also remotely wipe data from devices. Unfortunately, thieves can simply turn off these devices or erase them. When the data is available, it's not always enough for law enforcement to act upon (read why) and it is very dangerous for consumers to act upon on their own.
When it comes down to law enforcement, police must tackle all areas of the issue from investigation to crime prevention and education. When it comes to theft, which is a crime of opportunity and often goes unnoticed by the victim, crime prevention is the key area that needs to be developed (see our Do's and Dont's of Mobile Device Loss). When it comes to burglary, which involves the break-and-enter into homes, vehicles or businesses, law enforcement agencies have more evidence to investigate the crimes, but the success rate of device recovery is still low; crime prevention can still help prevent these crimes (see home burglary prevention, CPTED, auto theft prevention).
Robbery is the most concerning area for law enforcement, as it involves a physical assault to steal property and can result in serious injuries, even death. Mobile device robbery has seen up to a 40% increase across the country, so tips on avoiding being a mobile phone robbery victim can help spread awareness of the issue.
Law enforcement agencies are struggling all around the country to investigate all of these crimes. There is very little chance that stolen phones will ever be recovered.
Crime prevention by law enforcement agencies and safety groups can only go so far in stemming the rising crime rates in device theft, burglary and robbery. With these crimes spiking all over the country, it's time we address the systemic issues too.
On October 31, CTIA and participating wireless companies in the US (T-Mobile, AT&T, Spring and Verizon), along with the FCC and law enforcement officials, announced 4 steps that would be taken to address the systemic issues contributing to device crime. The major step to combat crime is the creation of a database designed to prevent GSM smartphones that were reported as stolen from being activated or provided service in the US, even with new SIM cards.
Although this blacklist is a good step in stemming crime, it will not stop it. Devices will continue to be stolen, exported to other markets for resale (particularly countries in Latin America, EMEA and Asia Pacific). Devices can also be sold to electronic recyclers, albeit for a lower amount. Since smartphones do far more than just make calls, all of the other features that use WiFi will still work, including voice applications such as Skype and social networking applications; not much is lost to the creative buyer, particularly when WiFi hotspots allow for voice applications to step in for phone functionality.
As consumers, we should be demanding that device makers and wireless carriers do more to protect us from device crimes.