When you hear the words “smartphone theft” you might automatically think of a drug-crazed creep hitting some unsuspecting person over the head and making off with an expensive iPhone. Sadly, that does happen, but a new survey suggests many more smartphones are stolen because their owners carelessly leave them on café tables when they pick up their morning lattes.
That “Doh!” scenario – which obviously isn’t restricted to cafés – accounts for roughly 44 percent of all smartphone thefts, according to a survey of 2400 smartphone users commissioned by Lookout, which sells smartphone security products. The thief-grabs-phone-and-runs scenario only accounts for 11 percent of smartphone thefts, according to the research.
While it’s true that Lookout has an interest in making you worry that your phone will be stolen, the company hired IDG Research (also owned by CIO’s parent company) to do the survey, and it included data from respondents in five countries, so I think it has some validity. With more than three million cell phones stolen in 2013, according to a survey by Consumer Reports, the issue is clearly a serious one.
Most of us are attached to our expensive phones, but about three-quarters of the people who said their phones had been stolen didn’t notice for some time. That lapse that makes it that much harder to recover them, according to Alicia DiVittorio, Lookout’s head of security communications.
A surprising number of respondents said they would be willing to put themselves in danger to recover their phone; one in five said they’d accept a moderate amount of danger, while 20 percent said they would risk even more danger if it meant getting their phones back. “We don’t encourage vigilantism,” said DiVittorio.
It appears, though, that many theft victims don’t need encouragement. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who has been actively pushing the industry to add so-called kill switches to smartphones, said that victims often do more than chase thieves down the street – they pursue them to their homes. “Some have been successful; some have been hurt,” he said in an interview with The New York Times.
Of course, putting the phone in your pocket before you go chat with a barista makes more sense than chasing some bozo to his lair – unless you really like drama.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.