Lost and stolen mobile devices on the rise


Approximately twice as many cell phones were lost or stolen in the U.S. in 2013 compared to 2012, according to a report released Thursday by Consumer Reports.

The annual State of the Net Survey found 3.1 million devices were stolen last year — up from 1.6 million in 2012. The survey projected that more than one million smartphones were lost and never recovered last year.

In the Austin area, more 1,700 mobile devices were stolen last year, according to Austin Police Department. Veneza Bremner, APD senior police officer, said most thefts occur downtown and in Northwest Austin.

“[Downtown and Northwest Austin are] where more people are and have their cell phones out freely,” Bremner said. “You visit restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and you think your phone is safe. You put it down for a second, talk to somebody else, and then the phone is gone. You become easy targets for these cell phone thefts.”

Bremner said the replacement cost of the phone determines the degree of offense, ranging from a Class C to Class A misdemeanor.

UTPD Officer William Pieper said there are countless motives for people to steal a mobile device. Some people sell them on Craigslist or ship them to another location, and some people use the stolen phones themselves.

Rebecca Rosenfield, applied learning and development and human development and family sciences senior, said she met her friends at a downtown bar around midnight in January, and someone stole her iPhone 5 from her purse. Rosenfield said she was shocked it happened to her because she considers herself a responsible person.

“First, it was panic,” Rosenfield said. “I don’t think about my phone as an expensive item because I use it so daily, but, the minute I realized it was gone, I realized that’s not just a thing I can easily go get a new one of. A phone’s more than just a phone. It’s almost like someone’s lifeline.”

Rosenfield said to her knowledge, no personal information was stolen from her. She said she attributes that to the methods she took after her phone was stolen.

“Luckily, I registered my phone through ‘Find My iPhone,’ so we were able to shut off my phone, so no one could retrieve my data,” Rosenfield said. “I was also able to call my service provider, AT&T, and they could blacklist the phone, so, if anyone tried to resell it, it would call another line.”

Top phone manufacturers, including Apple and Samsung, and wireless carriers announced April 15 that they would start implementing basic anti-theft tools on all smartphones sold in the U.S. after July 2015. Features include enabling users to remotely lock their device and remotely erase any data on the phone if it is lost or stolen.

Bremner said it is important to remind people that cell phones are just property.

“We understand that how valuable it is,” Bremner said. “But don’t ever try to engage somebody where it turns into a robbery because you get hurt or there’s loss of life.”