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UK police reports 400 percent increase in thieves snatching smartphones

Reports of thefts of phones snatched from the hands of pedestrians are on the increase in the UK, police figures suggest. The expensive devices, easily taken while the victim is engrossed in a call, are a straighforward catch for many criminals, who then sell them on, possibly to contacts in other countries.

According to a Guardian report, police in one London borough, Islington, have reported an alarming 400 percent increase in phone snatches from pedestrians in the space of just 12 months, from 157 in 2010 to 786 in 2011—and that figure doesn’t even include the last two months of last year.

Criminals often approach from behind, giving the victim no warning, and also use bicycles, enabling them to make a quick getaway. It appears the perpetrators are getting bolder too, with daytime incidents being caught more and more on closed-circuit television cameras.

The British police force says between 250,000 and 300,000 mobile phones are stolen in the UK each year, though as these are only reported incidents, the figure is likely to be far higher.

One British man cited in the Guardian’s report, Joe Cronin, had his iPhone 4 whipped out of his hand in London last November by a thief on a bicycle. Now he keeps his phone concealed at all times.

“I use the headset when I’m talking to people on the phone in the street. I used to think people looked a bit weird doing it walking along–like they’re talking to themselves,” he said.

“But it actually means your phone is safe in your pocket. I would advise people who are out and about to keep their phone in their pocket because it can get snatched so easily.”

The head of Islington’s robbery unit, detective inspector Karen Gilmour, described phone snatching as “a young person’s crime” that’s becoming more popular.

Short of gluing the phone to your hand, there’s currently little that can be done to stop criminals intent on nabbing phones from pedestrians making calls in the street although, as Joe Cronin suggests, going hands-free currently seems the most effective solution.

[Image: SVLuma / Shutterstock]