An Eye For An iPhone: How Gadget Theft is Becoming A Growing Problem

I never thought it could happen to me, but last year I had an iPhone stolen out of my own hands while riding the subway late one summer night.  Even though I had read news stories and blog posts before about how the theft of smartphones and iPads was becoming more common while riding public transportation, I thought I was safe until I became another victim.


My first instinct was to share my experience through social media, where I learned that a few more of my friends had also had their phones stolen riding the subway.  A little further research led me to see the problem was growing across the US, and that many more shared my frustration being unable to recover my handset, even using the Find My iPhone feature. Most recently, in acknowledgment of the growing theft problem the FCC proposed changes to how the carriers manage reported thefts, hoping to help consumers avoid the hefty costs often associated when their stolen phones.

After I learned that the problem had become so widespread, I made a collection of clips on Storify sharing how the problem has grown, which I’ve updated over the last year. Here’s my ongoing story about the growing problem of iPhone theft:

As this story points out, some solutions to the growth of these thefts might stem from changes in public policy, both by training of local law enforcement as well as regulation of how carriers help consumers following their theft. Of course prevention of these thefts are also dependant on individual responsibility as well, and reflecting on my own stolen iPhone here is what I might have done differently:

  • Don’t sit near doors on the subway, as thieves often target riders by the doors for a quick getaway. In my own experience, the thief jumped out the subway doors right before they closed, so I couldn’t persue them.
  • Put your phone away while riding the subway, or at least hold it close to your body when the doors open.
  • Report your theft to the police immediately. Many police departments have started to use the Find My iPhone function to recover handsets to their owners.
  • Suspend your phone’s plan as soon as your report the theft. I thought I might catch the thief using my iPhone by maintaining the data plan, but instead they racked up thousands of phone minutes. Thankfully my provider (ATT) didn’t bill me since I had already reported the theft to them.

As my experiences demonstrate, losing these gadgets can be much more than just the theft of a phone handset. Not only did I lose my phone that night, but also personal data like contacts and app-specific data along with it. Thankfully I had a backup I was able to restore some of the data from, and fortunately I was able to use an old phone I had kept from before the theft. But for many people (like myself) their cellphone is their only phone line, and its loss creates additional challenges. So as smartphones become increasingly the personal hubs of communication, any problem with theft, especially those targeting popular devices like the iPhone, will have a growing impact on the everyday lives of their victims.