NEW ORLEANS – It is estimated that 113 cell phones are lost or stolen every minute in the United States.
In New Orleans, cell phones are snatched right out of people’s hands – even at gunpoint, and smartphone thieves are getting more brazen by the day.
Last week a New Orleans East teen was held up at gunpoint for his phone as he was getting off the school bus.
Ann, a resident of the Marigny, knows all too well how terrifying it is.
“There was a gun in my face,” she recalled. “It was probably the most scared I have ever been in my life.”
Ann said she was caught off guard when a gunman appeared on her front stoop and demanded that she and her friend hand over their purses and cell phones.
The Federal Communications Commission says 40 percent of all thefts reported in major cities are smartphone thefts.
Alicia DiVittorio, a consumer safety advocate for the mobile security firm, Lookout, says the number of lost and stolen smartphones they’ve located in New Orleans, in just the last eight months – is startling.
“Since March 2013, we have located the tens of thousands of phones in the New Orleans area and that is Lookout users alone,” she said. “Just imagine if that included iPhones and other smartphone tracking applications.”
An Eyewitness News review of the NOPD’s crime logs, which revealed similar scenarios, showed that in more than two dozen of the reported armed robberies since September, the perp specifically demanded the victim hand over their cell phone.
“They are not vigilant to their surroundings and they are preoccupied with their phone, and at any given time, when they are doing this, you have a little window of opportunity for the phone to be snatched,” explained Detective James Shepack of the NOPD’s Eighth District.
It’s a lesson that Ann said she learned the hard way.
“We always have our phones in our hand and it is definitely a lesson learned to be a lot more careful about having your phone out in public,” she said.
Conrad Green, co-founder of MyPhone MD on Magazine Street says Ann did do a few things right.
First, she set a pass code and downloaded the ‘Find my Iphone’ app that allowed her to use her GPS locator to track down her phone in Memphis, Tennessee.
But, Green said the best thing she did was to report the phone stolen immediately.
“Fortunately the carries have all caught on to theft and theft prevention and they are blacklisting phones, which disables me from being able to re-use it on a new SIM card.”
Green says that on average, five people walk into his Uptown store every week looking to sell back a smartphone.
“It is very tempting for retailers, businesses such as ourselves, to buy back a $400 device at a $50 mark.”
One man was actually turned away while Eyewitness News cameras were rolling, because he didn’t know the pass code for the phone he was trying to re-sell.
Lookout says that 44 percent of people don’t even put a pass code on their phone, and experts say that’s one of the easiest ways to make a smartphone useless to thieves.
“If you don’t have any pass codes, if you are not up to date on your software, then it’s going to be pretty easy for a thief to get your phone, unlock your phone and disable your location services,” said Green.
There is also something called the ‘lock cam.’ For example, if someone enters the wrong pass code on your device, three times in a row, it automatically snaps a photo of the person, emails the picture to the user along with the exact location of your phone when the photo was snapped.
“Download an application like Lookout or some other app that lets you remotely lock and remotely wipe your phone, because, while the hardware is extremely valuable, so is the content on the device,” said DiVittorio.
Lookout estimates that billions of dollars worth of phones are stolen every year, which is why experts say you shouldn’t get caught up in the latest ‘hot’ phone.
They say that thieves want the latest and greatest just as badly as the people willing to camp out outside major retailers for new releases.
“I know they are worth a lot of money and, especially with the holidays coming up, I know there is going to be a lot of people getting the new iPhones and I just hope there won’t be more incidents like this,” said Ann of her incident in the Marigny.
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