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Watch your phones!

Just returned from London and surrounding areas, and wanted to warn you guys about your cell phones.
They are WANTED there. They will take them when you aren't looking and they are good at it.
Twice in about 10 minutes standing in Whitechapel waiting for Jack the Ripper tour I had 2 separate people try to grab mine.
Mine was in my hand once, a guy tried swiping it but missed and ran away. The second time it was in my pocket with the camera poking out and I see a young guy eye-balling it. He moves in real close and goes for my pocket. I grabbed his hand and smiled and said you better just walk on. He obliged.
The third time that week was at the Welcome Break Birchanger Green. I actually saw the whole thing go down and got it on video.
A family was eating at Burger King and a young Romanian guy came up and asked where the restroom was, when the family turned a young girl ran in and grabbed the phone of the table and ran like the wind out the door. There was no way to catch her, but I did get the guy that was the "Actor". We called security, they checked the CCTV footage, and arrested the guy for stealing. They saw him and her in the lot get out of the same car. Poor guy lost his phone, he was on holiday and was so bummed about his phone. They tracked it later on and said it was in Harlow, and It's pretty much as good as gone.
Just wanted to give a heads up on this. Keep them out of sight in public spaces!

Posted by
292 posts

This is general advice for anywhere you travel, not specific to the UK/London.
I recall a work colleague looking at his new iphone at the train station Hongqiao station in Shanghai...our train was called to load and his phone was immediately gone. I've lost a phone in was lifted from my bag in a screening area. I know folks that have had phones stolen in NYC and just about every other country/city you can think of. It's common sense to protect your valuables in public places and especially areas that see a great deal of tourist traffic. As long as you are aware and worries. The pros only hit the easy don't be one.

Posted by
3789 posts

Interesting just what they want these days. Seems hardly worth it to me, but if it is a mega$ latest model iPhone (which is like $800 here in Canada), perhaps....or maybe it is all that is stored on it or accessible like banking details or identity theft. Hard to know.
Maybe instead of a summer job the youth are turning to street theft - or is Fagan still alive and well in London?
Unfortunately, people pay heed to keep things out of sight or in their hands after they have lost something they treasure or makes life inconvenient.
You must feel good about being able to thwart this - for yourself and for having the footage. Good for you. the theif is just one of many, but perhaps lesson learned.

Posted by
92 posts

Hey it's not just your phone. Last year while in London we were at our RS breakfast in our Hotel and one of our travelers was sitting at a table with her purse was hanging on the back of her chair. It was taken while she was sitting there. Lost her phone, passport, cash and credit cards and spent a day at the Embassy to get help getting travel documents replaced.
Please review Steve's travel security recommendations and don't let your trip be ruined.

Posted by
166 posts

Best advice. When not using your phone, keep out of sight in a deep pocket. Never put on a table anywhere, either in Europe or any place. You are just asking for it!

Posted by
64 posts

Maria, The officer said they get about 30 pounds for the best phones on the market. (I Phone, Galaxy, etc....)
Also, I understand this is everywhere you go, but since this was the England forum, and people are going to England, and I just experienced this 3 times in England, I figured I would just give a heads up.

Posted by
4978 posts

Small time (or maybe big-time) crooks - a shame! Radio news just announced that people are stopping by the cafeteria at Disneyland, stealing sporks and coasters associated with a new Star Wars Millennium Falcon ride, then selling them online. Five-finger “discount” to make a little money, same as taking other people’s phones or other property.

Posted by
4751 posts

I have worked in London for years and no one has ever attempted to steal my iPhone, but I never leave it sticking out of a pocket or carry it in my hand when I am not using it. It’s in my handbag. My husband hasn’t had a problem with his in his pocket. Be aware.

I have had a handbag taken from the back of a chair whilst in Portugal 15 or so years ago, so I learnt a lesson to keep it in front of me at all times.

Posted by
3217 posts

I never could figure out why people simply lay their phone on the table. Seems like an invitation to me. Ditto for hanging a purse on the back of a chair..

Posted by
3465 posts

I have spent considerable time in the London area. Never seen this. Just got back from 2 weeks where I was in the Paddington Station area spending lots of time walking around and through the train station in rush hour crowds. Used my phone as always, hundreds of others around doing the same. No problems.

Not saying that because it didn't happen to me or around me means it doesn't happen. This posting makes it seem like the thieves outnumber the rest of us.

Posted by
64 posts

This posting makes it seem like the thieves outnumber the rest of us.

Not sure why that is, just sharing my experience I had.
Nothing more than a heads up. Hopefully people will just
keep this in mind as they travel anywhere really. Where I am
from this never happens, so it was a bit of a shock to have this happen.
Nothing meant or implied by this post. Just take it for what it is.

Posted by
129 posts

MY "phone" (actually an IPod, used for e-mail, photos, etc.) is locked with a pass code. I assume most folks lock their phones and, yes, I know what it means to assume. Of what value is a stolen, locked phone to anyone? I suppose if one is a thief that it's still "good business" to steal a lot of phones to get the few that aren't locked?

Posted by
1217 posts

I got an Apple Watch last Christmas and have come to appreciate how well it can work in conjunction with Apple Maps in many cases. When you're walking or driving somewhere (mass transit is iffy right now), it sends directions right to your wrist where you can discretely check them as needed and leave your phone at the bottom of your bag in relative safety while you're out and about and trying to figure out how the heck to get somewhere you haven't been before.

(Now cue the inevitable story of how someone who knows someone who knows someone who had a moto rider in Italy try to cut an Apple Watch off their wrist with a machete while they were walking along a street in Naples or something)

Posted by
1128 posts

I’m a Chicagoan and have pretty good street smarts but it did happen to me in 2018. Pretty sure it happened from me leaving my phone in my jacket pocket unzipped. I was with a couple of my friends at a pub and we went outside so one of them could have a smoke. I was a bit intoxicated and I don’t exactly remember but a couple of guys came up and started asking questions in poor English. I did report it to the police and they told me it was the 4th one that night and that the phone was probably on the way to Eastern Europe. I’m sure there’s ways that hackers can unlock them.

It was quite a pain, I had to use my iPad which is WiFi only for the rest of the trip.

Posted by
4978 posts

You could avoid carrying a cell phone on trips, except pay phones seem to be harder and harder to find. And they were sometimes vandalized, but seldom stolen.

Posted by
2624 posts

As people have said, it happens everywhere, even in St. Louis. Just use common sense. I have been in London and all over the UK, never had a problem. You wouldn’t walk down a street or stand on a street with a lot of £ notes in your hand, no you would put them where they would be safe, do the same with your phone.

Edit....not saying anyone is stupid, just pointing out it’s not wise walking down the street with your phone in your hand, no matter where you are.

Posted by
64 posts

You wouldn’t walk down a street or stand on a street with a lot of £ notes in your hand

No,but I would walk down the street with my phone in my hand 4000 miles away, using city mapper or another app trying to figure out where the hell I am. Common sense huh? Great you chimed in here. You're the one that makes me feel real welcomed around here. I'm assuming you think I'm a stupid person for using my phone, but this is just a story on what went down while I was there. YES it can happen anywhere. I understand that. Even St. Louis.

Posted by
8946 posts

Thanks for the heads up Viking! It's a shame it's become such a hideous problem. One thing I like to do to thwart these robbers is to attach a wrist strap like this to my phone:
Simply loop it through the notches at the bottom of you phone's case to attach it.

This way I can carry around my phone when using Google Maps without the need to constantly look over my shoulder.

Posted by
1402 posts

That's why they're called "mobile" phones…… ;)

Posted by
4524 posts

Thanks Midwest Viking for the post. Some of the pushback in this thread is standard and typical of some posters that cannot let threads about common thefts and scams go without commenting on how it is overblown or rare. It's just a quirk of this site. Honestly, just ignore it.

"Apple picking", or phone theft, is more common in some areas that others. There was a rash in Chicago on the L a few years ago, and lots of media coverage and warnings, and now you hear little about it (although I'm sure it still happens). Some tourists live in places were such thefts would not be common at all, and need these warnings as reminders to keep their valuables safe. Your experiences may be a bit extreme, but serve as a good warning that people need to keep their phones safe. Setting them on tables in cafes and restaurants is VERY commonly done.

PS - Responding to a couple of posts - Telling people not to use their phones while walking around is just plain silly. That is what they are for (not to mention the camera app is hugely popular).

Posted by
4524 posts

Lots of videos on line showing how to unlock them.

Even the FBI has an extremely difficult time breaking into phones of criminals and terrorists. They are nearly impossible to unlock if the phone manufacturer's security is used.

What value is a locked phone? The value of the phone itself. The system is wiped and a new SIM card installed, then sold on the black market. Almost as good as stealing cash, and far better than stealing credit cards.

Posted by
361 posts

It'd definitely be a bummer to have this happen. While doing all we can to protect ourselves from phone left (while acknowledging we also want to be able to use our phones, and keeping it in a safe deposit box back home isn't an option), there are ways to minimize the damage from a stolen - or even lost - phone. I know in my case, at least, the real value of the phone is the information on it. So in order to feel a bit less vulnerable while accepting bad things can happen, keep in mind the ability to...

  • "Find My iPhone" (or the Android equivalent). Not to say any of us are going to go off on some Liam-Neeson-in-"Taken" mission to rescue our phones from the gang of sinister thieves who've made off with it, but this feature can really come in handy. Even if you innocently misplace it or forget it somewhere, there's ways to keep tabs on where your phone might be when it's not in your possession. Phones even have settings that let you remote-wipe them, or automatically wipe themselves if/when a certain threshold of failed login or unlock attempts are made.

  • Use two-factor authentication and/or passcodes for individual apps (ones with sensitive information in particular, such as banking apps), and don't repeat the same passwords. Don't have the PIN that unlocks your phone be the same as the PIN for all your individual apps, for instance. The biometric security features many phones have nowadays are also a good option here.

  • Back up the phone regularly. This can often be done almost effortlessly, by letting your phone sync to a secure cloud-based backup system. You can also regularly plug it in to your laptop at home, sync it via your home wifi, and so on. At the very least, if and when that phone is lost or stolen you can get a replacement and more easily pick up where you left off - not have to manually add in all your apps, not lose your contacts or photos, etc.

  • Some people might even travel with different phones than they use back home. This might be a more extreme option, but a cheaper phone that can still get you access to apps and perform the basic functions you need when traveling (possibly even with a local SIM) is also something people do.

Phones are not the optional luxury item they once were for many of us these days , and rather are an essential tool for daily living. We keep all sorts of information on them. So being smart and safe not only with the collection of circuitry and plastics that is the physical phone but also all those 1s and 0s that make up the data on it can't hurt!

Posted by
4368 posts

Even the FBI has an extremely difficult time breaking into phones of criminals and terrorists. They are nearly impossible to unlock if the phone manufacturer's security is used. What value is a locked phone? The value of the phone itself. The system is wiped and a new SIM card installed, then sold on the black market. Almost as good as stealing cash, and far better than stealing credit cards.

You've hit the nail on the head. The FBI, MI5 and other law enforcement agencies are after the data stored on the phone, text messages, internet data etc but with the level of password security and encryption these days it's incredibly difficult to crack. Wiping a phone and restoring it to its factory settings is easy, great for a thief for selling on, useless for criminal investigation.

Posted by
31290 posts

It sounds like there's a resurgence of "Apple picking", which was common a few years ago. This is one reason why I prefer to use a relatively inexpensive P&S camera rather than my iPhone for snapshots. In areas that might be risky, my iPhone is safely tucked into a very secure pocket inside my travel vest, and not even visible. Thankfully no one has ever tried to grab my large DSLR.

Although the phones are fairly secure if good pass codes are used and the "Find My iPhone" is enabled, as others have noted they can still be wiped and provided with a new SIM card.

Posted by
64 posts

It sounds like there's a resurgence of "Apple picking",

The officers that came to arrest the guy in the Welcome Break said 3 to 4 a day just in that rest area.
I'm assuming it's a lot more common than locals want to believe.

Posted by
64 posts

I even gave some advice on how to avoid being a victim

Appreciated, Thanks for that.
But realistically we as travelers have to have phones OUT during the day for GPS, Pics, Apps, Etc......
To keep the phone away from sight is virtually impossible for some of us. I appreciate the feedback, but
it just didn't work for me. And the fact is, Phone theft in London IS reaching an all time high right now. This info
comes from other "locals" and officers that deal with this day to day. They prey on the tourists, not the other locals.
There is no way for you to see this from your perspective.
Thanks for all the help though!

Posted by
1250 posts

Given that around 1 to 2 million visit a service station every day - about 20,000 average per station - 3 or 4 reports per day doesn't sound quite as terrifying as you seem to think. So perhaps the locals are a bit more on the ball than you are when it comes to considering the risk?

Sure, it happens. Just as pickpockets are around. And bag snatchers. And moped gangs. Even a few people with guns, probably. It's sensible not to assume you're in some crime-free paradise and instead take reasonable precautions. But panicking that everyone is out to get you is daft as a brush and only likely to ruin your hols. I thought your original warning that this is "a thing" was quite reasonable, it certainly is, but subsequently the discussion has become looney tunes.

Posted by
64 posts

Fair enough Nick.
This is just getting stupid. I really despise the fact I even brought this up.
Just wanted people to be aware.
I'm done.........

Posted by
64 posts

I did not read it. I was told this by the Police at Birchanger Green welcome area.
The exact quote was "There a 3 to 4 a day stolen from here and we know they are going to Harlow to get sold for 30 quid a pop."
I did not get their names.......sorry.
I would assume if the employees of the Burger King, The local people that were there, and the officers telling me that this is a big problem now that this would be the actual case. I will believe them. They are the ones dealing with it.

Posted by
2727 posts

Travelers don’t have to have cell phones out all the time. It is a choice. Even if used for photographs it can go back in a bag, pocket, whatever between shots or locations My device is away most of the time as it has too much important life in general on it. You will see more without apps, gps, etc. in your hand. Know where you are and where you are going before you leave the hotel/apartment. You will actually understand where you are more and not need a reference. That being said, thugs grab cellphones and run no matter where you are. At home on the subway it is common sense to have a wrist band and never sit next to a door! Don’t blame the city. If you are the type of person who hangs a purse on the back of a chair or leaves it open in a shopping cart while you walk away to find an item, or rests your phone on the table you are easy bait. I am not a Luddite by any means, but there are times and places to enjoy what is in front of us and not in our hands. Don’t blame the location as you provide the bait. It does not mean it happens all the time or to most people. It doesn’t.

Posted by
129 posts

Thanks for the explanation, Douglas. Now the thievery makes sense to me.

Posted by
29 posts

Midwest Viking...
Thanks for the heads up. I don't think that anyone is criticizing you so much as cautioning against people being reluctant to visit for fear of crime. I'm terms of the phrase "common sense" ... you showed that you took precautions and therefore didn't lose your phone.

We all need reminders once in a while so thank you. Just like we need to assure people that though we do have more shootings in the US someone shouldn't be afraid to visit because in the scheme of things it's statistically unlikely, though everyone should be aware of their surroundings