Friday, March 14, 2014

Your iPhone Is a Great Theft Preventer - It Is Also a Theft Temptation

NYPD Advice on Protecting
Yourself Against "Apple-Picking"
Last year I argued, in connection with new data from the Institute for Economics and Peace, that the arrival of cell phones, and especially iPhones, has helped bring down crime rates.  I was partially right.

Yes, the ability of victims or onlookers to call the police right away when they see a crime in progress is a big deterrent to crime. It's hard to remember the ancient days when you had to find a public phone to call the police.

But the new problem is that the iPhone itself is now a major theft target. I fell asleep on an Amtrak train last year and when I woke up my iPhone 4 was gone, as was a neighbor across the aisle. I was the victim of an Apple theft, sadder but perhaps wiser.

The good news is that my two-year contract period was over and I had no penalty to pay when I got myself a new iPhone. Also, the data were erased remotely and the phone was made unusable. I was lucky.

Turns out I am not alone in being an Apple Theft victim. In recent years iPhone and iPad theft has accounted for a rising percentage of major thefts (grand larcenies) - 18 percent of them in New York City. The rate has increased steadily since 2010.  This form of theft is so common now that it has a name... "Apple Picking".

Here are three sets of advice about preventing loss of your iPhone and the data that are stored in it.

1. NYPD Advice

Recommendations to New Yorkers, BEFORE your smartphone is lost or stolen:
  • Be Aware. Know your surroundings and be cognizant of your smartphone use behavior. Similar to your purse or wallet, it's best to not call attention to your smartphone and create an opportunity for a thief to steal it (e.g., leave it on a restaurant table, use it while walking or taking public transportation, allowing strangers to "borrow" it to get directions, etc.). 
  • Lock It. As soon as you get a new smartphone, set a hard-to-guess password to protect your device and change it on a regular basis. If you don't know how to set a password for your smartphones, here are video and print instructions.
  • Add Apps. There are a number of apps available that will remotely track, lock and/or erase your smartphone. In addition, some apps will remote trigger an alarm so people know that smartphone is stolen or take a photo of the thief so you can send it to police. 
  • Save It. If you have photos, emails, contacts, videos or anything else that you want to make sure is available if your smartphone is ever lost or stolen, save it somewhere else such as on a computer, USB drive or cloud service. 
  • Insure It.  Consider insuring your device through your wireless provider or a third-party entity so that if it is lost or stolen, your replacement device is covered (especially if there is a two-year contract to pay through).
2. Apple's advice, if you enabled Find My iPhone on your missing device

The following steps require that Find My iPhone was enabled on your device before it was lost or stolen. Otherwise, go to #3.


  • Put the device in Lost Mode to set a 4-digit passcode and display a custom message with your phone number on your device. While the device is in Lost Mode, you can also keep track of changes to your device's location. Lost Mode requires that your missing device be using iOS 6 or later. If your device is using iOS 5, you can still lock your device remotely and display a message on the screen.
  • If you want to delete all of your personal information from your missing device, you can erase it remotely. Please note that when you erase a device, you will no longer be able to locate it.
  • Report your lost or stolen device to local law enforcement and your wireless carrier. Apple doesn't track or flag lost or stolen products, but you can use My Support Profile (supportprofile.apple.com) to find a list of serial numbers for products that you've purchased or registered with your Apple ID. 
  • If your missing device is offline, you can still put it in Lost Mode, lock it, or erase it. Your commands will take effect when the device comes back online.

  • 3. Apple's advice if you did not enable Find My iPhone on your missing device


  • Report your lost or stolen device to local law enforcement and your wireless carrier. Apple doesn't track or flag lost or stolen products, but you can use My Support Profile (supportprofile.apple.com) to find a list of serial numbers for products that you've purchased or registered with your Apple ID.