Beware of the iPhone Swipers

Watch your back this Black Friday. There will be gadget thieves on the streets to go along with gadget deals in stores.

Aside from long lines at stores, two things are certain to happen this Black Friday: Consumers will be using all sorts of mobile apps to augment their shopping, and young thieves will be swiping a lot of iPhones and dashing away either on foot or bike.

I wrote about this problem last holiday season, and the situation has only gotten worse.

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In the San Francisco Bay Area, smartphone theft is on the rise, with the top prize being the iPhone. San Francisco police have gone undercover to catch iPhone snatchers, reports SFgate.com. There's even a police campaign warning consumers to "be smart with your smartphone."

The rough-and-tumble city of Oakland has had 1,300 cellphone robberies this year. Oakland police are also cracking down on smartphone thieves; a recent sweep netted almost three dozen people. In New York, a chef was killed for his iPhone. Outside Denver, a thief ripped away a bag with an iPad in it so violently that the victim lost a pinkie.

Help is on the way. The wireless industry is moving toward a national registry that would deny service to stolen phones, reports the Wall Street Journal. Carriers promised to create a unified blacklist by October 2013.

What's most disconcerting is the age of some of these thieves. Last year, I witnessed a theft while on a train to San Francisco by two boys, perhaps 10 or 12. In Oakland, a 15-year-old boy was recently arrested for trying to sell a newly stolen iPhone for $200.

Apparently, some youngsters are teaming up to form outlaw smartphone gangs on bikes. In Stamford, Conn., police say a group of youths on bikes are stealing iPhones from women.

As smartphones and mobile apps become more pervasive, theft will surely rise. Expect consumers this Friday to be staring into their iPhones looking at maps for store locations, comparing prices with apps such as Amazon's Price Checker, tapping apps that keep track of holiday gifts and – wham! – your iPhone is swiped.

Fellow CIO.com blogger James Martin offers five tips to ensure your iPhone will be swiped: leave your iPhone on the edge of a table in a crowded café, always wear your earbuds, make sure your iPhone (or earbuds) are visible in your car, talk while you walk, and sit near the exit door of a train.

I was guilty of the latter when my iPhone 4S became a target last Christmas. But then the little thieves found easier prey, an elderly woman staring into her phone, unaware of the real world. The thieves swiped the phone and were gone in a flash.

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