iPhone, electronics theft spikes throughout D.C. area

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Have you been a victim of smart phone theft? We want to know where it happened. Tell us where your smart phone or other gadget got snatched from you in the comments.

(Photo: Associated Press)

It's happening everywhere. Throughout D.C., in Metro stations and on trains, in plain view of the public, and in David Bonelli's Northwest Washington neighborhood, snatch-and-grab thefts of cell phones and small electronics continue to rise.

For Bonelli, a stroll through his neighborhood quickly turned violent all because of the iPhone he was holding.

"I could tell they were specifically looking at my iPhone," Bonelli said. "Nothing else."


"They" were a group of teenagers who closed on in him, following him into the middle of an intersection and stopping traffic. That's when Bonelli was assaulted - part of a striking trend of cell phone theft throughout the city.

"One came up from one side, one came up from another," he says. "One punched me in the jaw. My Blackberry fell out, (and) thinking it was my iPhone, they picked it up and ran off."

It now appears that there has been a spike in these types of thefts since the October launch of the iPhone 4S, Apple's newest smart phone offering.

Many of the recent incidents in the District happen to people doing what D.C. resident Lizz Vaghi and thousands of others do every day - walking with her phone out, ear buds in her ears, not paying attention to her surroundings.

"I'm always on my phone and just looking at it," Vaghi says. "I got it a couple days ago so I'm all about it. I guess I don't think about it."

The scene is repeated throughout D.C. and in Metro stations throughout the area - people so engrossed in their phones that they barely look up. This is when bandits love to strike - it's already chaos, people coming and going and lots of ways to quickly get away.

These are what authorities call "thefts of opportunity."

"If I take it right before the train doors close, the train is already moving before you know it has happened," Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Ken Pavlik says.

WMATA says it has seen a big jump in smart phone robberies last year, but has worked aggressively to curb that number in 2011. D.C. Police do not keep specific statistics on robberies of smart phones and small gadges, but all are working to combat the growing problem.

Pavlik says that women sitting near train or bus doors are often the most targeted in snatch-and-grab robberies, but that doesn't preclude men from the issue. His number one tip - just leave your phone alone.

"If you don't need it, just put it away," Pavlik says. "Wait until you get to your final destination."

Meanwhile, for Bonelli, the incident has led him to be much more careful with his beloved iPhone, hoping that out of sight will mean out of a theft's mind.

"I keep it in my pocket," he says. "Where I used to have it out and play with it when I had nothing to do or nothing to read...I don't do that as much anymore."

Have you been a victim of smart phone theft? We want to know where it happened. Tell us where your smart phone or other gadget got snatched from you in the comments.

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