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Violent smartphone robberies on the rise

(KGO)

August 31, 2012 5:54:31 PM PDT
iPhones are becoming so popular among thieves that criminals are using violent and dangerous means to steal them.

Smartphone robberies are becoming more brazen and more violent. In June, a pregnant woman was beaten by her attacker on a BART train while he stole her iPhone. On Thursday in Oakland, another victim was pistol whipped before two robber made off with her iPhone, her laptop, and her wallet.

Yet another woman described to ABC7 News the frightening assault she endured outside a bar in the upscale Cow Hollow district of San Francisco, all over an iPhone. The brazen strong arm robbery happened at Kelly's Tavern on Fillmore and Lombard last Friday shortly after midnight. Heather Sweeney was celebrating her birthday with about a dozen or more friends. It was packed with people, dancing to a DJ. "We headed out to the dance floor and we were all kind of hanging out right in this area where we are now," Sweeney said recalling that night.

She went to check on their coats which they left in an alcove. "With my back to it is when I felt a large arm go around my rib cage." A man grabbed her arm and pulled it back sharply while female accomplices began grabbing at her jewelry. "They instantly were trying to rip my engagement ring off and I made a fist, and that was right when I knew something really bad was happening. And then they tried to rip my earrings out of my ear, gave a sharp tug on my necklace, and they took my phone out of my back pocket, hit me in the face, just closed fist punch in the face," she recalled.

The punch blackened her eye and she fell to the ground dazed. It happened fast. The music was blaring. People were dancing. Even though there were security guards there, no one saw what happened. After police were called, Sweeney borrowed her friend's cell and they began tracking her stolen phone using her "Find My Phone" app. "We tracked it and we saw that the phone on the map was moving, was already on Lombard Street," Sweeney said.

So, they ran down Lombard and onto Steiner Street. "We ran about two blocks up Steiner and it was obvious that they were in a vehicle and it was moving much faster than we were going to be going," Sweeney said. Police then picked up the chase, but the robbers killed the app on the stolen phone by taking the SIM card out. "And as soon as it got to U.N. Plaza, we lost the signal."

From there, distributors sell them in illegal flea markets, out-of-state, or even Mexico and Asia. The area is also a place where police have stepped up their reverse sting operations. "So they have the phone and they have to sell the phone to somebody, and that's who we're going after, the guys who are buying the phones," Capt. Joe Garrity said. Officers have begun calling that area around U.N. Plaza and the mid-Market corridor "the new Apple store" or the "Apple rack" because it's become the most popular underground market for smartphones.

In just the last 24 hours, seven iPhones and two laptops were stolen in San Francisco. One of them was stolen from a man who was sitting on a Porta Potty.


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