Stealing iPhones is more profitable than crack for San Francisco’s pro thieves

stolen stuff from car

We’ve always held that the iPhone can be like a drug, its users addicted to just one more app, just one more high score. Now comes word from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: criminals. Theft of the iPhone and other cellphones is increasing in popularity with criminals who once sold crack cocaine.

Turns out, a new twist on iPhone thefts can be more profitable – let alone, less dangerous – than selling drugs on the street…

Despite a criminal being able to pawn a stolen iPhone for about $100, a new wrinkle nets thieves “more than I can get for selling crack cocaine,” San Francisco, California Police Chief Greg Suhr tells the San Francisco Examiner.

Instead of selling the stolen phone, thieves now act as Good Samaritans, giving back the handset they “found” to victims. The grateful owner usually gives the thief $20 for returning the valuable item, more than what Suhr said a drug dealer can earn from selling crack.

Indeed, the police chief believes a rise in cell phone thefts could explain a drop in that city’s drug-related arrests.

If the advent of the Activation Lock in iOS 7 satisfied some law enforcement officials (including San Francisco’s District Attorney) looking to stem a rising tide of cell phone related crimes, criminals appear to be adapting.

iOS 7 activation lock

Along with the Good Samaritan ploy, which does an end-run around the need to sell a stolen iPhone, thieves are joining forces in ways that would make the Artful Dodger of ‘Oliver Twist’ proud.

San Francisco police say they’ve seen an increase in teams of thieves working together to steal cell phones from restaurant patrons or even bus passengers. In one instance, a man eating at Taco Bell had his phone swiped by a woman, who fled the store. When the victim tried to catch the thief, two accomplices blocked his way.

The thief was later captured by police.

The same trio attempted to grab a cellphone from a victim riding a city bus. Following a tactic more common on the NFL gridiron than the streets of San Francisco, the thief reportedly slapped the phone from the female victim’s hand.

While the victim was able to grab her phone off the floor before the criminals could reach it, police say the slapping movement is enough to startle a victim, giving the thief the upper hand.

Here’s an iPhone theft gone real bad as a security cam captures a teenager attempting to steal an iPhone 4 at an AT&T Store in Downtown Washington, DC.

All of this highlights several low-tech, but useful takeaways: don’t zone-out when talking on your phone. So often, people will carry on a conversation in public and not pay attention to their surroundings. Not only is this terribly annoying to people around you who have to put up with your insufferably boring talking, but it makes you vulnerable to theft.

Secondly, if your iPhone is valuable, don’t make it easy to steal. If you are a woman, put your phone in your purse, preferably in a zipped compartment. Also, think about adding a chain to your iPhone’s case.

As one former pickpocket told ABC recently, a cell phone is “the most frequently stolen item in the world today.”

Keep that in mind the next time you pull your iPhone out of your pocket in public.