'Apple picking' thieves snatch iPhones


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By Jeff Rossen and Avni Patel

Brazen thieves are finding new ways to steal your iPhone. It's called "Apple picking," and you'll never see them coming.

Criminals have been stealing iPhones for years, grabbing them from your pocket or your bag. But now they're taking it to a new level, stealing them right from your hands as you're on the phone.

Here's why: When you're on the phone, you're in your own little world, not paying attention. And the criminals are counting on it.

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In San Francisco, a woman's casual phone call ends when a thief snatches her iPhone and takes off. In Stamford, Conn., a woman is walking in front of a church, talking on her iPhone, when a criminal on a bike sneaks up behind her, grabs it, and takes off. In Atlanta, a thief follows a woman into a store and makes his move, snatching her iPhone right from her hands.

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Police call it "Apple picking": the explosion of brazen iPhone thefts. "It's a trend that's actually gaining speed and growing very rapidly," said Stamford police captain Rick Conklin. "They often sneak up from behind you; the snatch is very quick and very fluid."

Police say by the time victim realized what has happened, the thief is gone.

"No. We get poor descriptions of these suspects," Conklin said adding that it makes them "much harder to catch."

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A self-proclaimed iPhone thief spilled his secrets to WNBC in New York, his face hidden and voice disguised, saying he's turning a new leaf. In creepy detail, he described how he did it.

"As horrible as it may sound, I tend to look for women -- the older the better, generally," he said. "If I think that you can't catch me, I'm going for you."

He says most of us are easy targets -- texting, talking, oblivious to what's going on. He says he's swiped iPhones from tables in coffee shops, even public bathrooms.

His favorite time of day for Apple picking was "after people got out of work," the thief revealed. "The more people were around, the more you blend into the crowd. They drop their guard; they just simply drop their guard."

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And for the criminal, it pays off. iPhones are hot on the black market. "The iPhone 5, you are looking at around 300 bucks for it."

With iPhones in high demand, and criminals fighting for them, police are offering a new warning to all of us.

"Don't fight back," Conklin advised. "There is more of a chance that you're going to get injured if you fight back. Let them have the phone."

And there's another layer to this: Identity theft. If a thief steals your phone while you're on it, they don't need your password to get in; you're already in the system. Now they have access to your email, your personal photos, videos, contacts, everything. They can even reset your password.

If your phone is stolen, call the police and then your wireless carrier immediately and tell them to shut it down.

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