Liz Max, 27, was walking near the corner of 62nd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan’s Upper East Side around 8 p.m. last week when she noticed a group of teenagers on skateboards and bicycles circling pedestrians.
“I was reading an email or a text or something and my hand was open so I wasn’t gripping onto my phone … so one of the kids came up from behind me on the right side of me and just so delicately swiped it out of my hand,” Max told Business Insider.
Max barely felt the iPhone leave her hand, and then the group fled in the opposite direction against one-way traffic, ensuring no car could pursue them. A cyclist ignored Max’s pleas, and a motorist who wanted to help couldn’t turn his car around.
Then a roughly 40-year-old woman, the daughter of a former police officer, offered her mobile phone for Max to call the police. After roughly 10 minutes, a police car arrived at the scene, and Max gave a description of the young thief.
Max, who had her mobile phone stolen from her only once before at a private party, thought the thief was long gone, perhaps on a subway. But then cops stopped some skateboarders who matched the description just a couple blocks away. She relayed her password to open the iPhone the police had recovered from a skateboarder, and that’s when they told Max her iPhone had been retrieved.
The police told Max very few victims of mobile phone theft get them back, and it is also very rare for witnesses to help victims on the street. “Unfortunately I got my phone stolen, fortunately I was in that very small statistic,” Max said.
Police lined the suspects up against a wall and shined flashlights in their faces, to prevent them from seeing Max’s face while she identified which one took her phone, which was recovered on aeroplane mode without the protective case.
At the police station, the cops questioned Max and the witness while simultaneously questioning the suspect in the next room. They quizzed Max about the details of her phone, even asking her to show them a photo of herself stored on the phone.
Finally, the three-hour ordeal ended. Police warned Max that mobile phone robbers are more likely to strike on the street when an owner is using it to text or email, since they will likely have a poor grip and won’t see a thief coming.
“It’s just a crazy New York story,” Max said. “You have to be careful and you always have to have your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re a female and especially if you’re small.”
More than 40% of robberies in New York City involve mobile phones, with similar statistics in other major cities, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). But Max’s case is relatively rare because only 11% of smartphone thefts occur by pickpocketing, whereas 44% of smartphones are stolen when they are left behind in a public place, according to a Lookout report.
She is also one of the few victims who recover their stolen phone. Although one in 10 smartphone owners in the U.S. have their phones stolen, 68% don’t get them back. Smartphones have tremendous value for thieves to sell them for cash, since they are 30 times more valuable per ounce than a block of silver, Re/code reports.
Smartphones are also valuable sources of sensitive data. “Smartphones these days contain a lot of sensitive corporate information, personal information, banking and credit card applications, photos and a whole lot more,” Forbes reports. “Losing an unprotected smartphone is probably worse than losing a wallet and is increasingly being targeted for phishing and identity theft.
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