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Subway riders subject to iPhone thefts

The WSJ's Andrew Grossman reports (subscription required) that New York City's subway riders may be a bit too openhanded with their digital devices. According to NYPD statistics, grand larceny* incidents on the subway were up 18 percent year-over-year from January to March of 2011 (311 reports in total). Transit police brass attribute the spike in pilferage to increased theft of smartphones, and of course, the most popular choice for thieves is the iPhone 4.

The article quotes NYPD transit chief Raymond Diaz on the increase: "We've been seeing an incredible trend of young people snatching these cellphones." Diaz also noted that thefts are likelier during the evening rush hour, and that several train lines (Manhattan's Lexington Avenue lines, Brooklyn's J and L trains, and Queens' M, R and 7 lines) seem to be 'hot spots' for thefts. The city's commuter rail lines have also seen a mild spike in thefts.

While subway crime in New York remains at an extremely low level compared to historical norms, there are a few tips that Chief Diaz suggests to keep that ride trouble-free. Don't stand near the train doors while using your phone since that would streamline a thief's getaway; be sure to record your iPhone and iPad serial number in your personal records; and, of course, if you have Find My iPhone turned on, you might even get your device back.

Police efforts to track down phone-grabbing perps meet with some success; they make arrests in 30 percent of incidents of phones being swiped from owners' hands, and in 56 percent of incidents where force was used in a phone robbery.

* While the New York State legal definition of 'grand larceny' is generally perceived to cover property worth $1,000 or more (which is pricier than an iPhone or iPad, unless it's in a very nice case), the definition also applies to about 12 other conditions (i.e., if the theft involves secret scientific formulas, credit cards, cars, guns, religious items, phone phreaking gear or ammonia for making meth), including when the property in question is taken directly from the person who owns it, rather than stolen from an apartment or office when the owner is not present. These subway thefts match that part of the grand larceny law, making them a class E felony. Thanks to our friend in the NYC district attorney's office for clarifying the rules.

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