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Identity & Community

Effort to Curb Cell Phone Theft Comes to Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has joined top prosecutors in San Francisco and New York in a nationwide initiative to thwart smartphone thefts by rendering the devices useless after a robbery.

The “Secure Our Smartphones” initiative was introduced in Pennsylvania by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this week. It’s a collaboration among attorneys general and municipal leaders asking cell phone manufacturers to develop a “kill switch” for stolen phones.

“This would render smartphones unusable when they are stolen,” said Joe Peters, spokesman for PA Attorney General Kane. “This would dry up the secondary markets for resale of stolen cell phones and reuse of stolen cell phones by groups like drug trafficking groups, etcetera.”

The effort was begun in June by Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon with the hope of successfully pressuring the smartphone industry to develop a technological solution to what is being called a crime wave.

“It’s estimated that cell phone robberies make up 30 to 40 percent of all robberies in major American cities,” said Peters. “Whether you’re in a major city or not, people with a smartphone anywhere are potential victims simply because they have and are using and are displaying a smartphone.”

Philadelphia is the number one city for smartphone theft in the United States, according to a report from AAA; and lost and stolen cell phones cost consumers more than $30 billion last year.

In New York, police have coined the term "Apple-picking" to describe thefts of smartphones and other mobile products, such as electronic tablets.

The “Secure Our Smartphones” initiative is also part public awareness campaign, letting people know this is a problem, especially on public transit. Peters said individuals need to do their part to prevent theft, “Guard your cell phone,” he said, “be aware of your surroundings when you’re using your phone and know that there are criminals out there who are looking for an opportunity to grab your cell phone and run or worse, confront you and have an altercation. No phone is worth it, no amount of technology is worth it.”

Election night results for Pennsylvania governor, the U.S. Senate race, and the 12th and 17th congressional districts.