TODAY   |  February 20, 2013

Rossen Reports: Thieves snatch phones out of hands

Criminals have been stealing cellphones for years, grabbing them out of pockets and bags, but now a few brazen criminals are taking it to the next level. A real-life thief tells NBC’s Jeff Rossen all about “Apple picking” — stealing iPhones directly from victims’ hands.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> him as a kid. it stuck with him for decades. he does it every day to this day.

>>> rossen reports on crime, what's known as apple picking . jeff rossen is here with more. hey, jeff, good morning.

>> you both have -- you still have a blackberry.

>> yeah. let's not get off on a tang enter here.

>> savannah, you have an iphone , right?

>> yes.

>> criminals have been grabbing them from your pocket or your bag but now taking it to an all new level, stealing it right from your hands as you're on the phone. here is why. when you're on the iphone you're in your own little world, not paying attention. and criminals know t a real-life thief tells all about how he picks his victims. san francisco . this woman doesn't know it, but her casual phone call is about to end. watch as this thief snatches her iphone and takes off. stamford, connecticut, this woman is walking in front of a church, talking on her iphone when a criminal on a bike sneaks up behind her and grabs it. by the time she realizes what happened, he's gone. in atlanta, a thief follows this woman into a store and makes his move. snatching her iphone right from her hands.

>> it's a trend that's actually gaining speed.

>> reporter: police call it apple picking , the explosion of brazen iphone thefts.

>> they often sneak up from behind you, the snatch is very quick, very fluid.

>> reporter: you never even know what hit you?

>> no. we get very poor descriptions of these suspects.

>> reporter: making it harder to catch?

>> very hard to catch.

>> reporter: this thief in los angeles , attack a woman while stealing her phone. this man is a self proclaimed iphone thief, stealing his secrets to wnbc. face hidden, voice disguised. he says he's turning over a new leaf, describing in creepy detail the tactics he used.

>> look for women. the older, the better. you can't catch me. i'm going for you.

>> reporter: most of us are easy targets, texting, talking, oblivious to what's going on. he has swiped cell phones from public bathrooms.

>> people get out of work. the more people that are around, the more you blend into the crowd. they simply drop their guard.

>> reporter: for the criminals, it pays off. iphones are hot on the black market .

>> iphone 5 right now you're looking at around 300 bucks for it.

>> reporter: with iphones in high demand and criminals literally fighting for them, police are offering a new warning for all of us.

>> don't fight back. there's much more of a chance you're going to get injured if you fight back. let them have the phone.

>> good advice. there's another layer to this. identity theft . if they steal your iphone while you're on it, they don't need your password to get in. now they have access to your e-mail, personal photos, videos, contacts. everything. they can even reset your password right on the spot because it's already open.

>> scary stuff. you have a hidden camera investigation tomorrow, right?

>> yes. looking at contractors, air conditioning repairmen, locksmiths. we are turning our hidden accuracy on plumbers. will they treat you fairly or charge you for repairs you just don't need? we've all been there. watch these guys in action and we'll have the results of our hidden camera investigation.

>> i love when rossen goes undercover.