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Yup, that new iPhone 6 will also get you robbed in Pike/Pine

Rounded edges. Larger screen. But still no kill switch. Apple announced the latest “new features” for its iPhone smartphone line Tuesday. Once again, there was nothing that will help change the game when it comes to discouraging smartphone thieves. The phones are worth hundreds of dollars each — and nearly everybody walking across Capitol Hill is carrying one.

“10 years ago you could not guarantee that almost every person on the street had something worth $400 to $500 in their pockets,” SPD spokesperson Detective Drew Fowler tells CHS about one of the major drivers behind the return of the summer crime spike to Capitol Hill.

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Earlier, CHS counted up the record-breaking reported robbery totals for the Capitol Hill area in August. Turns out, we’ve been undercounting.

Included in that number should be the growing number of pickpocket incidents around the Hill. In 2014 through August, the Capitol Hill has tallied 111 reported robberies and 47 reported pickpocket incidents. In 2013, the numbers for the same period were 115 reported robberies but only 33 reported pickpocket thefts. Not all of the robberies and thefts involved phones — but a check of recent incidents and incidents from last summer show the majority did.

Detective Fowler tells CHS that theft crimes that include the traditional grab of a wallet or phone from an unaware victim are classified as pickpocket incidents but apparently some types of snatch and run phone grabs also get thrown in the bucket. For a busted thief, the distinction could be important — a pickpocket theft is only a misdemeanor. But for those who get away with it, there is no difference — both are thieves who have made off with a new phone. UPDATE: Sounds like the difference is even more nuanced. Pickpocket is, indeed, also a felony level crime.

The mechanics of the crimes that have plagued the Hill this summer illustrate the fine line. A group of teens will stake out an area and watch for an opportunity to single out one or two victims away from busy streets and passersby. They’ll attempt to take that person’s property in the easiest way possible. Sometimes, it’s simply running up and grabbing the phone or wallet. Other times, there is a confrontation and physical violence. If it comes to it, one of the group may be armed with a gun or a knife to make sure the job gets done. The line between the types of crime sometimes can be how the victim reacts. An added, thieve-y bonus: Victims are left without any means to quickly contact police.

Policing organizations have called on smartphone manufacturers to do more to make the phones have less value to thieves. They’ve also looked for federal help in breaking major smartphone rings like this FBI bust in Minnesota of a family funneling thousands of phones stolen across the nation into the Middle East and Chine where the unsubsidized and high-tariff markets command an even higher price for the technology.

In Seattle, SPD declines to provide any speculation about where the phones stolen on Capitol Hill end up but one officer told us that there are street buyers downtown that are known to do brisk business in phones and will work with behind the counter operations at shops across the city to funnel the stolen hardware overseas. You can also find some savvy phone crackers and wipers on the street doing a brisk business. If that’s true, it’s a mirror of what this report out of San Francisco documented about the fencing that goes down at Seventh in Market in that city.

Minnesota and, soon, California will require manufacturers to add “kill switch” features. Before other states jump in, the largest manufacturers have banded together to promise a database to track stolen phones and prevent their use in the United States. But that will do little to soften the worldwide demand for the devices. And that means they’ll be as valuable as ever on the streets of Pike/Pine.

Earl Saturday morning, one of the gang squads assigned to Capitol Hill’s entertainment district made their first bust of the new emphasis patrols. The first suspect they nailed? A pickpocket phone thief.

UPDATE: A couple commenters have been quick to point out that Apple has already shipped a de facto anti-theft capability. You can read about how to activate it here — and judge if the solution is really a kill switch.

UPDATE x2: And here’s how easy it is for somebody in the chain to bust your iCloud password.

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42 thoughts on “Yup, that new iPhone 6 will also get you robbed in Pike/Pine

  1. Yes there is a Kill Switch. It exists for the 5c 5s 6 and 6+. It is called Find My iPhone, and it disables the system at the most basic level rendering it useless to the thief.

  2. Yes, this exists even for my iPhone5 (non S). I can locate its whereabouts (as well as my other Apple items), lock it and erase it all from logging into my account on Pretty simple.

  3. As an added bonus you may also be robbed/beaten for your $349 iwatch* (please note the iwatch is only compatible with the 5 and 6 versions of the iphone).

    *starting early 2015

  4. “But still no kill-switch.

    Ever since Apple introduced iOS 7 there’s been the capability to wipe the phone remotely and prevent it from being re-activated. You have to enable a security password but if you’re too lazy to protect your device you go with the risk and know of the risk.

    • I password protect my Android, but I had second thoughts about that after I found someone’s iPhone, which was not password protected. I was able to call “mom” in his address book and get it returned to him (he was visiting Seattle from Kansas) within an hour, preventing it from getting into the hands of a thief and helping to make the rest of his trip enjoyable. Fortunately mom know who he was staying with and miraculous had that person’s number.

      Yet, my phone is still password protected…

      • Apple’s “find my phone” feature lets the person who lost their to phone enter a number so it’s displayed on the lost phone’s screen allowing (hopefully a nice person like you) to dial the number and gain contact with the phones owner.

        I only password protect my phones.

  5. I’ve always been curious what cell phone thieves do with password protected phone or kill switched phones. I’ve thought they have some way to factory reset but I still don’t get how someone can then take the phone and use it for a new cell phone contract (if they want any service besides just basic wifi). I guess that’s what fences are for, and maybe they have ways to bypass all these methods everyone is talking about. And maybe apple/samsung could make some all encompassing method to brick a phone.

    I think the key is it has to be very well publicized. Not everyone has that app or knows how to do it so a large percent of phones won’t be kill switched.

    • I believe Apple does brick the phone to un recoverability unless you bring it to them.

      When you first get the phones and configure them, it prompts and explains what Find my iPhone gives you. Some folks just can’t bother. I would bet these are the same folks whose password is 1234.

    • I don’t know what thieves do with the phones, but from a technical standpoint it is very possible to wipe the phone, change all electronic identifiers, install a new sim card and you’re good to go.
      There are laws with prison time and huge fines for changing the electronic identifiers that have been in place for years.

  6. If you walk around yakking away on your iPhone like an idiot in a place known for crime – you’re an idiot. Yes, I’m victim blaming.

    • Or tuned in to your music walking to/from your bus at 11:00 at night. Just gotta read this blog to see how many people are easily separated from their phones/iPods because they were oblivious to their surroundings.

      • I’d go even further and ask why so many people feel it’s necessary to have a smartphone with them at all times. Why not leave it at home unless you’re pretty sure you are going to use it when out on the town? I don’t own one and somehow manage to get along just fine.

      • everybody’s different though. what works for you may not apply to the next person.

        i personally carry a smartphone because i like to be able to catch up on blog articles like this one if i’m stuck waiting in line/waiting for a table and not having a book with me. i also like the ability to look up the name of a song that might be playing somewhere without having to track down a harried employee that’s rushing to help another customer.

        it’s also helpful if i want to identify a plant or bird, snap a quick picture of a sign/poster i want to look up later, etc. there are a lot of uses for a smartphone.

        that said, i think the smart advice to anyone carrying a smartphone, expensive electronics device or anything small and valuable, to keep it in your pocket or purse; if possible. not waving it about and calling attention to your valuables is the best way to not attract the attention of a potential thief.

      • Because I live in Capitol Hill, and on any given time I leave my place, I might see a drug addict in the midst of an overdose. Or I might see a paranoid schizophrenic in the midst of a violent episode. Or I might see a career criminal try to attack someone. All of those would warrant calling 911, although given the SPD’s response policies it might not actually result in a response… so yeah, might as well leave my phone at home.

  7. Note that the Washington Post article about how easy it is to guess peoples’ security questions presupposes that you know their iCloud account name. However, the iCloud lock screen only shows the first letter of their iCloud ID, e.g. s****** – that’s definitely not enough to go on for a social engineering attack.

    The article was written presupposing that you know the person you’ve stolen it from, which is not the case for simple pickpocketing/mugging.

    • Yeah, this is not easy.. Basically, if the phone is locked, any iphone should be less than worthless (since it will be traceable via “Find my iPhone” and could result in a police visit). Note that this requires the user to A) Lock their phone and B) Leave “Location services” on.

  8. This is why I keep my phone in my pocket and don’t wander around Cal Anderson and Pike/Broadway late at night. It pays to exercise a little caution and be aware of your surroundings.

    • I’ve made it a habit to step into a doorway facing out if I need to access my phone. It takes literally 2 seconds for somebody to snatch & run with your phone and easily get away–even in broad daylight, when sober, with lots of people around. Nobody thinks it could happen to them, until it does.

      • Stepping out of traffic when attending to a device is also polite to non-theives on the sidewalk — the phone user is less likely to be obliviously in everyone’s way, or loud, etc etc. Nice piece of modern sense and etiquette.

  9. Justin, reporting on neighborhood crime rates is great. But you’re solidly into clickbait territory here, using Apple’s product announcement to craft a baity headline and a premise that’s at best highly debatable. Not your best moment.

    • The Apple hype runs thick enough that I’m pretty sure it can take being “used” in such fashion! I was reporting on this as a follow to the weekend’s emphasis patrol reporting. Ignoring the massive hype of the iPhone 6 launch would have just been weird.

      We’ve put reporting on more and better policing first. But I’m not going to ignore this element of the story.

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  13. You can also rip up a $100 bill and insert the smaller half in your case with a note saying that the finder will receive the other half if they return the phone.