CHICAGO (CBS) — There has been a spike in smart phones being stolen out of the hands of users – a rise in crime tied to the release of the newest iPhone.
What makes this a popular crime is the big bucks the criminals make when they resell the stolen items. CBS 2’s Dave Savini investigates the black market for cell phones and asks experts what can be done to stop it.
Savini went undercover with a box of more than a dozen cell phones – including iPhones, Blackberries and Nextel phones — to see what would happen if he tried to sell them.
The salesman at one store said he was interested in buying the phones. When Savini said he didn’t have the codes to unlock the devices, the salesman said that wasn’t a problem.
Chicago Police officials are frustrated it is so easy to sell stolen phones.
“Sometimes you can get $200 for a phone,” Chicago Police Cmdr. John Graeber says. “That’s a problem for us.”
Also frustrated are victims like Gabby Bowyer. She admits being an easy mark last year while on a bus near the University of Chicago.
“He knew that I was engrossed in my phone,” Bowyer says. “When he went to grab the phone, he pushed me back at the same time, and my head hit the back. I was just shocked.”
Police caught her offender, who is now in prison. Bowyer says police told her the offender had committed similar crimes seven times.
There have been numerous robberies for cell phones. In one notorious case, a woman was fatally injured during an iPhone robbery at a CTA L stop in March.
“I’m surprised that no one has looked into where these vendors are getting their merchandise from,” Bowyer says.
The stores CBS 2 visited with the box of phones did nothing illegal because the items were not stolen.
Chicago Police have tried unsuccessfully to get cell phone companies to use technology that would make a stolen phone dead.
“We have sat down at the table and asked them to look into these solutions that may be there and have gotten no response back at this point,” Graeber says.
Chicago police have also gone undercover. So far Chicago Police have arrested 10 dealers with stolen phones. Graeber says the crime would be reduced if you could take away the easy resale.
One cell phone dealer offered Savini $120 for the phones for which he did not have pass codes. When Savini told him the transaction did not look good, the dealer agreed.
The dealer, however, said he would have checked to see if the phones were reported stolen before completing any deal.
Cell phone stores do not have to ask for identification when buying used phones. Compare that to pawn shops, which are required to collect identification prior to buying used goods.
State Reps. Greg Harris (D-13th District) and Jim Durkin (R-82nd District) are working on a bipartisan effort to crack down on those who receive stolen phones.
Here are some tips for staying safe. Pay attention to your surroundings, not just your phone or other device.
On the L, watch for people walking from car to car. That is actually illegal, and police are making arrests. Protect your phone when the CTA train is pulling into a station. Often, criminals grab phones and then jump off the train right before the doors close.
Police also say to report your phone stolen to them and to your carrier. Hopefully, that will keep your phone from being resold.
Finally, be mindful of the information you keep in your phone. If a criminal pays to have it unlocked, they will have access to all of your stored information.