New accessories hide tech devices from thieves

February 6, 2013 8:27:14 PM PST
The old stick-up line used to be, "your money or your life." But robbers are no longer targeting your wallet alone. The number one item they're going for now is your smartphone.

The suggestion from law enforcement -- don't go out with your phone in your hands, even though that's what they're designed for. So, because of that suggestion, some inventors have a crazy notion -- what if you could hide your smartphone in plain site?

Walking down the street, or sitting on a bus. If you are wearing earbuds, police say you're a target.

"These criminals will often come up running from behind you, snatch, grab, and run," SFPD Officer Albie Esparza said.

Video shows one such incident on a Muni bus. A man is seen nervously watching a woman with an iPhone. As soon as the bus stops, he grabs the phone and he's gone.

"Thieves don't even care about cash, they care about electronic devices because they can quickly turn that around and make a profit," Esparza said.

And it's not just smartphones they want, but tablet computers too. Police across the country say muggers are going for gadgets in roughly half of all street robberies.

"And I've seen that happen," CNET electronics expert Sharon Vaknin said. "I've been at Starbucks when it happened." Vaknin watched a woman become a victim at a local caf?, "She reaches down in her bag to grab something, a guy takes advantage of the opportunity, swipes the laptop and runs out the door."

But one local company has come up with a solution to the problem, "If you look at the product sitting on the table, it clearly disguises itself as a book. It's going to completely blend in as some things of no value to criminals," said Craig Dalton, founder of DODOcase.

Dalton founded the company in San Francisco, making covers that protect computer tablets from harm and from criminals. One DODOcase user said a burglar stole everything in his living room, but left the iPad behind. Because of the case, it looked like a book no crook would want.

"They feel very comfortable walking down the street with their iPads because they're disguised," Dalton said. "It very much blends in as a hardback journal."

Hundreds of smartphone cases may initially serve as disguises, but Officer Esparza isn't so sure they'll fool a thief, noting, "They know these cases oftentimes go over a smart device. Especially if you're holding it over your ear."

As soon as we start making calls, or tapping keys, the iPhone looks like an iPhone. And these cases are just cool covers.

Esparza advises, "Don't be texting and walking if you can avoid it."

Police say you're better off tucking your phone under a jacket or in a jogger's armband. And most of all, be aware of who might be lurking nearby, and don't rely on a fake fried egg to keep your phone safe.

So what's the next big thing in protecting your phone? Major carriers like AT&T now will block service to stolen phones to render them useless. By next year the carriers will merge databases so a stolen phone can't get service with any of them. The only downside is if you disable your phone, you can't use the tracking apps to try to get them back.


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