January 22nd, 2013
05:14 PM ET

To catch an iPhone thief

By Jonathan Binder, CNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - If it wasn't for stolen iPhones, overall crime in New York City for 2012 would have been down according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Last year in New York, 3,890 Apple products were stolen.

A lot of those iPhones and iPads might be sold outside of the United States, according to MIT Technology Review Editor Will Knight:

[4:05] "There's a big black market for these phones, particularly in China, Africa, South America.  The used devices can often sell for a lot less than the new ones so there's a lot of demand."

And one phone that won't be part of the stolen iPhone statistics, belongs to Steve's wife (he chose to not use his last name or his wife's first name).

Steve located his wife's stolen phone on a plane from Atlanta to Bozeman, Montana using the "Find My iPhone" app. A flight attendant pulled out a blue hiking bag that didn't belong to Steve or his wife:

[4:31] "The flight attendant then opens the bag. Inside the bag in another zipper pocket that was zipped shut was her phone, pinging."

The well-dressed, twenty-something thief was greeted by police when he got off the plane in Montana. But Steve and his wife settled for an apology and did not press charges.

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Filed under: Culture • Stories • Technology
soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. screen frozen on iphone

    You actually make it appear so easy along with your presentation however I find this matter to be really one thing that I think I'd never understand. It seems too complex and very wide for me. I'm looking ahead to your next post, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

    January 29, 2013 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. squashleo05

    there is a lively market for iphones left in cabs in chicago,cab drivers will usually sell the iphone at a couple of restaurants frequented by them,this pertains to a specific ethnic/national group,these restaurants close to each other in a certain well known for it's retaurants and groceries ethnic area,,the phone will then be sent of to this one country,where it will be resold.all cabdrivers are forewarned to switch the phone off,and to take out it's batteries!!

    January 25, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • jonathanbinder

      oh wow I didn't know that. I am from Chicago and when I was visiting last my brother was telling me about all the iPhone thefts on the EL (train for those not from Chicago). But he said it was getting pretty bad! And thanks for commenting and checking out the story.

      January 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MeowMix

    Too bad NYC police wouldn't do anything even though I had the address where my stolen laptop was. Their reasoning: "it probably won't be there anymore by the time we get there". Great work guys, keep up the stop and frisks.

    January 25, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tracyweb

    I don't have an iPhone but I've had my computer stolen in the past. I installed Blackberry Protect on my phone and Devicetrack.net on my laptop (for windows), so if it ever happens again, I plan on tracking them down and having them busted! Plus, the Devicetrack.net thing also lets me log in to my laptop if it's ever stolen so I can download and delete my files.

    January 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lisa

    I use Private Eyes Mobile app. It works great and let me see who was snooping on my phone at work.

    January 25, 2013 at 6:14 am | Report abuse |
    • SilentBoy741

      I use a password on my phone that only I know, that keeps anyone from being able to access it in the first place. But that's just me.

      January 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
      • Dan

        It's cute that you think the simple passcode (a feature that 99% of all phones have) is enough.

        January 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Samftw

    Easy fix to this it's called the ichain! It's like the chained wallets but it goes around your iPhone and connects to your pants. Apple will release new iterations of it each year with 43% increased security and strength and after some time they may even increase the length if the chain! Look for it being released alongside the iPhone 5s!

    January 25, 2013 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jenna

    1) Important story on being cautious and the crimes that are occurring and if you have an iPhone – how you can locate it.... (That's the point isn't it?)
    2) I think it was well written. (No, I am not Jonathan.) It is just a short news article.
    3) At least Steve and his wife did something about the situation.. for those judging him. He did it also at the risk of their own safety. (Dangerous.) They also possibly stopped it from occurring again. (Bravo.)
    4) So much criticism... Gee whiz.

    January 24, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Caitlin

    A couple of years ago I was in New Orleans for a meeting. I was on my IPhone in a crowded upscale mall on Canal St. I was talking to my son on my IPhone and was hit on the back of the head by someone as I was talking. He didn't grab my purse (which was dangling from my shoulder), or my shopping bags – he ripped the phone right out of my hand while I was on it. Fortunately I wasn't very hurt, just startled. The police office that I spoke with following the incident said it's an incredibly common crime in New Orleans for exactly the reasons stated in the article. He said that thieves look for a person on a phone, distracted and target them. He said often they will even approach people in groups, not just people walking on their own. He said your guard is down and you're not expecting it. His suggestion was not to talk or text without sitting down or standing in an area that you can see around you. He said to look up and at my surroundings if I'm talking, and better yet, to use a bluetooth and put the phone out of sight. It was very upsettting, but I'm wiser for it.

    January 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • jonathanbinder

      Ouch! That sounds rough. Sorry to hear that. But yeah those are good tips – even though I'm guilty of not paying attention my self. Thanks for commenting on the story. Hoped you enjoyed!

      January 25, 2013 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    My son's phone was stolen out of his classroom (in middle school) after it fell out of his pocket (he returned one class period later and it wasn't there)... we (wife and son) started the "finding" process after he got home, and saw it moving down a neighborhood road. We notified police, they went but didn't find it, and it stopped "checking in"... so we disabled the phone's account temporarily to prevent abuse, putting on a stolen phone notice that would tell anyone who had it to return it. After I got home, we decided to temporarily reactivate so I could run a trace again. It was about 10 blocks from our house (it had been turned back on)... wife and I got in the car and to the location and saw an "iPhone repair" company wrapped truck in a driveway at the location. We immediately called police, who met the guy, and ended up getting our phone back with a story of "some person who he bought it from" given to the police.
    Later turns out someone at the school was stealing several phones and reselling them, so we could have ignored it and let others be victimized, or pursued it as we did, and the thief was caught, disciplined (sent the the alternative juvenile program), and the "buyer" was basically on notice that now the police have a good starting point for future such thefts.
    The point isn't the money/cost, it's that theft of anything is NEVER acceptable, and should never be tolerated. To do so just encourages more theft.

    January 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • dkkm

      Actually, it seems more like the point is that your son is not responsible enough to have a cell phone. I've had cell phones for 15+ years now, and it has never fallen out of my pocket. Also, I still don't understand why a middle school aged kids needs a cell phone.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
      • g

        agreed. tell your spoiled brat to grow up.

        January 25, 2013 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Dkkm and g, way to pass judgement on Chris' kid. Sounds like you two are choosing to be part of the problem and not the solution. The issue isn't the child, it's the dishonest people who took advantage of his son dropping his phone. If the thief was an honest person, then this ocnversation wouldn't be happening. At this point, wiht comments such as yours,you two must be spoiled brats as well. Grow up.

      January 25, 2013 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
      • SilentBoy741

        Actually, if Chris had given her kid a cheap, disposable phone that only makes calls, like a TrakPhone, this conversation wouldn't be happening, because that phone would've probably still been lying on the floor when the kid came back. Dkkb and g are right, middle-school-aged kids are prone to losing things, and an expensive cell phone is not appropriate for a child of that age. A cheap throwaway phone is. Don't want to be victimized in a crime? Don't gave your kid a phone that would make them a target.

        January 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
        • innovativefx

          What SilentBoy741 is saying is that you should only buy cheap stuff for your kids because it might get stolen or taken by somebody it doesn't belong to.

          January 25, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff

    Why won't the carriers just have a policy of refusing to activate stolen phones. Every phone has a unique ID number. If the person who legally owns the phone reports it stolen, it should be activated. If the carriers won't do this because they don't want to loose business, then maybe the government needs to force the carriers to do this. It would be so simple and solve the problem of stolen phones overnight. Its a no brainer!

    January 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Krishna

      Right Now, Sprint and Verizon have a policy to not active any iPhone that was previously reported stolen. AT&T should do the same. But again, it does not stop the the thief from jailbreaking the device and using it.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. She said

    Actually, AT&T and I believe the other carriers have implemented a process to disallow a stolen smartphone from being reactivated on their network. At some point in the near future, if not already, they will have the ability to share this stolen phone info across carriers. This in itself should help drive down theft of smartphones.

    January 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samftw

      You are right, but the blacklist extends to any GSM carrier worldwide not just AT&T or tmobile. ANY phone reported stolen is now worthless unless you can spoof an imei which is not very easily done. Best thing to do is to make sure find my iPhone is enabled on your device or if you have an android download where's my droid and to understand how to use them!!! Test it out! For all other smartphones or for added protection many carriers now offer a mobile locate feature you can add to your account that gives the ability to ping a device and find its current or last known location. And one last bit of advice... if you notice that the MOST stolen phone is an iphone then maybe just maybe you should try something else, you might like what you find 😉 Hope this helps!

      January 25, 2013 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
      • jonathanbinder

        Good points! Especially about iPhones. I thought about that while doing this story. Perhaps someone should make an iPhone case that LOOKS like an Android 🙂 But for real, thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation!

        January 25, 2013 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Correct. My daughter misplaced her phone (it actually fell in her school backpack) on a friday and verizon put it on a stolen list so it could not be activated. We found it the following monday when she went back to school.

      January 25, 2013 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
      • jonathanbinder

        Oh good to know and glad your daughter got her phone back! Thanks Joe commenting. I actually read them...

        January 25, 2013 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. BobBaft

    Yep...thanks Steve. You didn't press charges so this loser didn't learn his lesson and he went off to steal someone else's property. Flipping bleeding heart hippies!

    January 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      Agreed. I would have definitely pressed charges on that jerk.

      January 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Me

    How many of these stories are they going to publish about someone using some kind of app or online tool to get their iPhone back? Do providers not allow insurance on iPhones like other phones? I've lost phones before. "Oh crap, I lost my phone, oh well, I have insurance." Then I go to the provider and get another one. Sure, I understand the concept that things should not be stolen from you and it's your right to get it back, but in other stories, people have went way overboard to get it back. It just boggles my mind that people seem to have the mentality of "it's MY iPhone and there is no other like it." It's a phone.

    January 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobBaft

      It's the jerks like you that cause the insurance rates to go up. Sorry I take care of my stuff and if I lose it, that's that. I didn't have a rich mommy and daddy to spoil me and teach me to steal from the insurance companies. I was raised proper.

      January 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
      • LOLOL

        Paying for and using insurance is exactly what insurance should be used for. If the policy covers lost or stolen, then you are following the rules the insurance company set when you elected to have said service. It is the insurance companies that punish us for using a service they provide. Has nothing to do with a rich or poor mommy and daddy. I would think people from poor families would see more value in insurance than those that grew up wealthy. Maybe you shouldn't be so concerned with someone using the service they paid for. If you lose your phone and that's that, then why are you so concerned about the cost of a service you refuse to use?

        January 24, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
      • Samftw

        Dude insurance rates didn't go up, the price and value of phones did... Insurance rates are respectively low comparatively. You break an iPhone and insurance costs you... Oh the same price you paid for that iPhone! And here's a trick... Deductibles are the same whether you lose the phone or break it so if you break it claim it lost, pay the deductible, sell the broken phone, profit

        January 25, 2013 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
    • LOLOL

      Might have to do a lot with what is on the iPhone. Back in the day, phones only held so much info. An iPhone would be all someone would need for identity theft of the worse kind. Knowing who has it and where it is may be helpful to a lot of people, especially those who use or got their phone from work and have sensitive material. There are several ways to wipe the device remotely but it may be equally valuable to the owner to know who got a look at the data.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Missy

      Obviously you dont have an IPhone or would know that no Iphones insurance do not cover being lost or stolen- Therefore we value our Iphones 🙂

      January 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • dkkm

      The only protection you can get on an iPhone is the Applecare protection. It does not cover loss or theft. And, you know the majority of iPhone owners are pretentious, idiotic tools that value their iproducts mroe than their own lives. (And I am an iPhone user, but reluctantly and only because the Androids have become too large for my liking).

      January 24, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
      • Samftw

        Actually you are wrong sir, asurion began insuring iPhones starting August 2011 but you can only add insurance at time of upgrade or new activation

        January 25, 2013 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
      • WDS

        I was offered theft/loss insurance when I bought my iPhone from AT&T ~ 6 months ago.

        January 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. some young guy

    after many years of using several electronic devices and being in many crowded places...i've never been pickpocketed. maybe people should just try to pay more attention.

    January 24, 2013 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Ralph

      It has nothing to do with pay attention, the pickpocket distracts you by bumping into or some other benign distraction.

      Let me ask you this, you've seen magicians do slight of hand tricks right? Are you telling me *you* pay such close attention, you expose them every time? I think not. Pickpocketing is the same concept, disctraction/misdirection = prize.

      It's all about better practices.

      January 24, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Eve

    So obviously Steve and Steve's wife didn't do as instructed and turn the phones off. Otherwise, the phone would not have been located. I'm amazed they weren't charged for failure to deactivate a cellular device on an airplane.

    January 24, 2013 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • jonathanbinder

      Well Steve was actually able to ping the phone before the plane took off and before people were told to turn their phones off. Plus the flight attendants were helping/aware of the situation. P.S. this is the guy who told the story.

      January 24, 2013 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • timothyerwin

      well, perhaps the thief turned the phone on....?

      January 24, 2013 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Common sense

      The point of the story is that the phone was stolen. It likely was not stolen while everyone was seated after final boarding and takeoff, when it would be quite difficult to simply walk to a seated person on a plane and rob them. Stands to reason, simple common sense reason, that at some point before the plane went airborne, the phone was stolen. At that point, most phone owners have their devices turned on. This comment was just silly enough that I felt compelled to point out what seemed so obvious but apparently wasn't as common sense as one might assume. Sometimes all it takes to not miss the obvious is a minute or two to think a thought through. It is a declining practice

      January 25, 2013 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
      • jonathanbinder

        I couldn't agree more with your last point! Thanks adding to the conversation (and thinking your thoughts through). Hope you enjoyed the story.

        January 25, 2013 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  16. Keith

    With the iPhone' IMEI and Serial Number (first one used by cellular carriers, second one by iTunes) burned into the hardware, I don't understand why these devices aren't immediately flagged when stolen.

    I guess certain cellular provides rely strictly on the SIM cards but the iPhone/iPod/iPad is pretty worthless without the Apple App Store. Since I've registered all my hardware ID's with Apple, I don't understand why they can't or won't shut down devices that are flagged as stolen and then re-registered.

    Am I missing something? Seems like it would be just one more column in a data table.

    January 24, 2013 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • jonathanbinder

      Yeah I think that's a good point. I didn't want to go too much into this because it does get complicated and I didn't have the time! So I kept it simple. But thanks for this comment!

      January 24, 2013 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • dkkm

      The fact that you think there aren't way to get around having to use Apple's App store, just shows that Apple has done a great job of deluding the public.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
      • Keith

        I understand jail-breaking's benefits and pitfalls however I would argue that the appeal of a stolen Apple product is based on it being an APPLE PRODUCT and having all of the benefits and features associated. Number one being the +500,000 apps available in the AppStore.

        January 24, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  17. LJ

    Just think if Apple had a tracking technology that was tamper proof. Too bad Apple won't enable that...

    January 24, 2013 at 5:33 am | Report abuse |
  18. brian

    parts of this story were written by someone who skipped journalism school.

    January 23, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • jonathanbinder

      Well at least you said only "parts of this story" and not the whole thing 🙂 But my aim was to share an entertaining story and clearly not an in depth report on iPhone thefts. Sorry if you didn't enjoy. So I see your point, but for the record I did graduate!

      January 24, 2013 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
      • Mike

        Nice response to a comment that didn't add anything to the discussion.

        January 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
        • jonathanbinder

          Thanks Mike. I welcome criticism, but that one was a little too far 🙂

          January 25, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Jase Cloud

    Apple products are the next "assault weapons" in New York. Because according to their government crime would be much lower if everyone only had those lowly Windows Phones. 🙄

    January 23, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  20. sigh

    Thanks Steve and Steve's wife.

    People like you are a big part of the problem...

    January 23, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Exactly what I thought. People that refuse to prosecute are encouraging the thieves.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Do you know where the couple lives? If it's not in Bozeman and they weren't going to be there very long it might not have been feasible. I don't know all the ins and outs of pressing charges, but if they had to fly back there for a court date would you pay for the tickets?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Ralph

    Find My Phone doesn't work against most thieves. I recently had my iPhone 5 pick pocketed from me at NFL game while I was on the way to the restroom. Upon returning I realized it wasn't in my back pocket. I quickly grabbed one of my friends iPhones and logged into Find My Phone with my account, Phone was turned off.

    Any thief that is aware of the tracking quickly turns the phone off and removes the sim card. The phone will never appear on the network, and no way of tracking or remote erasing it.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • mikeh3775

      Sure turning off the phone gets around that, but I have that app installed on my own ipad and ipod and also my kids, and have used it to get them back when they were stolen, because the ipad and ipod, are devices that they have to turn on in order to erase them. When my oldest son's ipod was stolen out of his gym locker, he immediately called me and I logged into my account and remote locked and password protected his ipod and then notified the police and also the school. I also remained logged in because the thief had turned it off. About 6 hours later, it alerted me that it was turned on, and I called the police and told them where to find it. The kid who took it was trying to erase it through itunes when he realized that he couldn't erase it from the device itself due to the password protection. Basically that app may be useless to an iPhone because of the reasons you stated, but it is very useful for the iPad and iPods, because there are no sim cards that can be removed to get around it.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
      • Ralph

        Actually your right and wrong there.

        You'll need the person to turn it on, with an open access point first off, if the iPad/Pod can't connect to the internet, still no go there. So, if by chance the person does turn it on, and it connects to a AP, or the stupid thief connects it to the AP, yes, your are correct.

        However, most professional iDevice thieves, not children, also know how turn a iPhone/Pad/Pod on in recovery mode and wipe it, by hold down the home/sleep button while powering it on, the phone immediately goes into recovery mode, where they can wipe it in iTunes.

        January 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      You should never use your back pocket. Makes it real easy for the pick pocket.

      January 24, 2013 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  22. Eric

    >The well-dressed, twenty-something thief was greeted by police when he got off the plane in Montana. But Steve and his wife settled for an apology and did not press charges.

    See, that's part of the problem right there. No 'penalty for failure' applied to the thief. All this thief has learned is that you have to dress well, look clean-cut, act contrite, and you can probably get away with a lot after the fact.

    Thanks a lot, Steve and 'Wife'. All you've done is help train another predator.

    January 23, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Agreed. The "well-dressed thief" should have had charges pressed against him. I do not understand how the victims in this could let someone like that off the hook. Did he somehow think the iPhone was his even though it may have been locked, had a totally foreign address book, or even was the wrong color in a different case? Not likely. You don't coddle those kinds of people. You press charges.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      Couldn't agree more!

      January 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |