Whilst in a coffee shop in London last week, we were approached by someone asking for money. She had an A4 sign written in broken English. From my police background, I knew this was a distraction theft attempt and sent her on her way. MET police figures indicate that up to 10,000 phones are stolen from Londoners a month by ‘opportunistic thieves’ operating in the capital. Recent reporting indicates there has been an increase in the number of mobile phones stolen from cafés and shops; distraction theft is often utilised, and ATM’s are also targeted. Customers who have placed their mobile phones on tables have been targeted by thieves often posing as beggars or tourists, to name but two approach techniques. Criminals distract their victims by various means including placing a piece of paper over the phone which is then slipped away by the thief whilst the crime is concealed beneath the paper. An alternative technique is to push a piece of paper or map into the face of a target and then steel the phone off the table. This type of activity is not new, but recent victims have reported that the techniques used were very slick and convincing. Losing your phone this way can be very upsetting and stressful. Our phones can contain a lot of personal, sensitive and vulnerable data which can be difficult to replace if not backed up.
1. Where possible avoid leaving your valuables on a table or in bags which are not within sight – try to keep your valuables on your person instead
2. If you spend a lot of time using your phone in coffee shops/restaurants, try to choose a table with a wall behind you or a corner where you have the best view of all your surroundings
3. Use your phone’s security features: lock your phone to protect your information and utilise any inbuilt tracking software on your device as a precautionary measure in case your phone gets stolen
4. Make a record of the IMEI as this will assist in identifying your phone should it be recovered following a theft. Your phone comes with a range of security features, such as keypad locks and remote data wiping. Make sure they are all activated.
5. Don’t just beware, ‘be aware’ of criminals and their activities – stay situationally aware
6. Be wary of people who approach you while holding a large map or piece of paper as this can be used to place over the top of your device while a suspect speaks to you
7. If you’re with friends/colleagues, watch out for each other’s phones and personal items
8. Don’t text while you’re walking, you likely won’t notice potential thieves approaching