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Subway iPad theft leaves reporter with broken jaw

Subway iPad theft leaves reporter with broken jaw

A new iPad, iPhone or other shiny electronic device is an attractive target for thieves, as Wall Street Journal reporter Rolfe Winkler now knows first-hand. But there are a few simple tactics to reduce your chances of having a device stolen from you, and the mobile industry is looking at further ways to make electronic devices less attractive targets for thieves.

Winkler and a date were on a NYC subway train looking at an ebook while the train slowed and stopped at the Bergen Street station in Brooklyn. When a thief ripped the iPad out of his date's hands, Winkler instinctively chased after him, only to run into the thief's backup team on the platform. "Instead of winning back the iPad, I found myself lying on the platform bleeding, my jaw split in half," said Winkler. While Winkler ended up eating through a straw for a month, it could have been much worse; in 2011 a Chicago woman died after an iPhone thief caused her to fall down the stairs of a commuter rail station.

Winkler is one of many victims of "Apple picking." With used iPads and iPhones picking up as much as $400 on the secondhand market, electronics thefts are climbing. Winkler's story in the Wall Street Journal notes that in Washington, D.C. alone, cellphone-related robberies climbed 54 percent between 2007 and 2011, and over 26,000 thefts were reported in New York in the first 10 months of 2011.

Device blacklists are one way that the mobile industry is planning to fight theft. When a phone or tablet is reported stolen, the device's ID number can be entered into a carrier database. If someone tries to activate the device later, the blacklist would show that it is stolen and the carrier denies service.

At present, only Sprint and Verizon have a blacklist in place, and AT&T and T-Mobile are planning to join up next year. In fact, by October of 2013, the four largest U.S. cellular carriers plan to have a unified blacklist up and running.

In the meantime, there are other common-sense steps iPad and iPhone owners can take to keep their equipment -- and themselves -- safe. First, don't become so absorbed in what you're reading or doing that you aren't aware of the people around you. Many criminals are looking for victims who are totally unaware of them; occasionally peeking up from behind the screen and making eye contact with others in the area is a good idea.

Next, don't make a big deal about showing off your device when you don't know the area. If you're in an unfamiliar part of town traveling on foot, waving an iPhone around is inadvisable.

Finally, if you end up being a victim of electronics theft, be sure to report the theft to the authorities immediately, and then follow up to safeguard your personal information. You did set a passcode on your device, didn't you? And did you turn on Find My iPhone/iPad, so that you can give police an indication of the location of your stolen device and force a wipe of your personal info?

While a determined criminal may be impossible to deter, some common sense about showing off high-priced electronics in public places might be just the thing to keep yourself from monetary loss or, in Winkler's case, injury.

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