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Cell phones are a popular item to steal in Utah

Published November 18, 2012 10:02 pm

Crime • Owners can install apps, report loss or thefts to protect information.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The iPhone seemed safe inside the purse of Brian Fullmer's wife, but it didn't take someone long to steal it during a high school assembly.

In hopes of finding it, the Salt Lake City man ran an application that traced the missing phone to just two blocks from where he worked. So Fullmer headed out to confront the perp, who turned out to be a female high school student. The girl insisted it was her phone.

"My son called and his face showed up on [the] phone," Fullmer said. "She knew she had been had."

As the girl cried, she told him that she had loaned her own iPhone — which had a distinct case that just happened to be identical to his wife's — to a friend and that her friend had given back the Fullmers' cellphone instead.

"She was actually a pretty good liar," he said. "It was really unbelievable."

Ultimately, when Fullmer threatened to call the police, the girl returned the phone and left, he said.

"It was kind of a crazy thing, but it turned out well," he said.

Last year, Utah police investigated hundreds of reports of lost or stolen cellphones.

"The temptation to steal cellphones has increased greatly," said Sgt. Mike Powell, of the West Valley City Police Department. "Cellphones have gone up in price over the years and hence their turn-in value has gone up as well."

Nationally, authorities are alarmed by the growing trend of cellphone thefts.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 40 percent of all robberies in New York City involve cellphones. And in Washington, D.C., cellphones were taken in 54 percent more robberies in 2011 than in 2007.

While Utah officials say there's been no noticeable spike in cellphone thefts, they acknowledge that phones pose a tempting target and aren't unusual.

On Nov. 6, Salt Lake City police reported that a woman was waiting for a bus near 200 East and South Temple when an 18-year-old man demanded to use her cell. When she refused, he grabbed it from her hand and ran off — right into the arms of two federal agents who happened to be nearby.

Salt Lake City police Sgt. Shawn Josephson said many of Salt Lake City's thefts occur when people leave phones in vehicles. But others are more brazen, such as stealing a phone right off a restaurant table.

"Cellphones are items that are easy to steal and easy to use," Josephson said. "And they're easy to sell to somebody or trade because everybody likes them."

While cellphone companies are not supposed to unlock phones unless someone can prove ownership, companies like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are taking it one step further to ensure compliance.

The major carriers have recently created databases for reports of missing or stolen GSM smartphones (phones that work on the GSM cellular network used by AT&T and T-Mobile). GSM phones from those carriers are included in the databases and will be blocked from being used or activated. By November 2013, a similar database for LTE phones (phones that are compatible with the 4G LTE data network used to connect to the Internet) will also be active, officials say. All four major carriers sell LTE smartphones.

Those efforts are intended to deter thefts by leaving criminals with phones that are inoperable.

jstecklein@sltrib.com

Twitter @sltribjanelle —

Preventing cellphone theft

Install an application so the phone can be located if stolen. Such apps can locate the stolen device from any computer, lock the phone and even sound an alarm to help locate it. Many of these apps are free. Check some recommended apps here: http://bit.ly/SPn01e.

Be aware of your surroundings when using your phone.

Password protect the phone and change it frequently.

If it disappears, report the loss immediately to your wireless provider and police.

Erase data remotely to keep any sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

Source • CTIA, The Wireless Association

How common is phone loss/theft?

Salt Lake City Police Department • About 60 cases a month in 2012

Unified Police Department • 445 since Jan. 1, 2011

West Valley City Police Department • Averages about 370 a year