by Marlene Fanta Shyer
I was waiting for the light to change on a corner of Times Square when I felt a jostle. My tote, which I always hold as close as a papoose, was open, but everything inside is always sealed behind zippers. My new smartphone, though, with its red battery protector/charger, was a beacon in its sleeve, just pleading to be snatched.
Sure enough, I spun around and there were two teenagers, a boy and a girl, standing there, trying to look innocent.
"You took my phone," I accused.
"No we didn't!" said the girl, but I know guilty when I see it. "You want to search us?" she offered.
I had what I thought was an alternative, inspired idea.
"If you find it for me, I'll give you $10."
"OK! Wait right here," the girl said, and the two tore off.
No surprise, they never came back, but miraculously, later my phone did.
See also: How to Cyberproof Your Phone
Thanks to the persistence of a determined detective, the needle in the Broadway haystack had been recovered and an arrest made, all within four hours. If I'd locked my phone or killed its service, they'd probably never have found my son in my contact list; the phone might never have been returned.
When the detective happened to be in the Times Square subway station that evening, my sticky-fingered pair coincidentally appeared. The detective recognized the boy from a surveillance video she'd watched the week before. (He'd been caught on camera fare-beating.) The teenager - all of 13 years old - was already in trouble for various misdemeanors. His case will be tried in family court.
Thousands of cellphones are pilfered every year - 113 are stolen every minute in the U.S. - and there's a healthy market for them. Smartphones are often sold for $100 to hustlers on the street, who resell them overseas. My model is currently for sale on eBay for over $400.
Most of us know enough not to leave a phone on a table in a restaurant or bar, but from the captain of the police precinct, I learned that on a bus, train or subway, most thieves are likely to be near the doors. Being vigilant is important, but one should also register a smartphone with tracking apps. For iPhone users, Find My iPhone is one choice, and Android users can count on Where's My Droid and have some other choices, too. Anti-theft apps allow you to lock your phone remotely, wipe it clean of sensitive information or even set off a high-pitched phone alarm from a remote location.
Record its numbers: Model, serial and IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identifier). The Federal Communications Commission maintains a full list of carrier contacts for reporting stolen phones: AT&T, 800-331-0500; Verizon, 800-922-0204; Sprint, 888-211-4727; and T-Mobile, 800-937-8997.
It is very likely if a cellphone is stolen, the role of the victim does not end with the arrest of the thief. There may be reports to write and sign, calls from the arresting officer and/or a detective, follow-ups from the prosecuting attorney and/or the delinquent's probation officer. The victim's appearance in court may also be requested. It is the lofty intention of the law enforcement community not only to prevent these sorts of crimes, but also to deter from future delinquency the young perpetrators who commit them.
Also of Interest
- Quiz: Are You an Easy Target for Scammers?
- 6 Places Never to Use a Debit Card
- Fight fraud and ID theft with the AARP Fraud Watch Network.
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more