The owner of Dekoposh at Blackstone and Nees become a victim last month after two men walked into the boutique and started asking strange questions. "They threw me off and I got really nervous so I forgot that my phone was charging. So yes, I walked away from it, which was obviously a mistake," said Thomas-Virrueta.
Thomas-Virrueta says she walked to the back of the store to get the phone number for the shopping center's security company. When she returned to the front of the store, she saw her iPhone charger dangling and her phone missing. "They didn't care about our register; they didn't care about our computer. They were only interested in the phone," said Thomas-Virrueta.
Fresno Police Sergeant Mark Hudson said 13 percent of the robberies in Southeast Fresno this year involved cell phones. Just this month, one victim had his phone stolen as he was driving in Southeast Fresno. "Somebody stopped in from of them, went up to their door, held a gun at them, took their cell phone and their wallet and left. These are violent type crimes that are occurring," said Hudson.
Fresno State Police have also seen a few cases on the college campus. To date, 21 students have filed reports of stolen cell phones, a more than 50 percent increase from last year. In three of the cases, the suspects were armed with a gun. "We've had other instances where a student is using their phone and someone comes up and says, "Can I borrow your phone?" And the student, being so kindhearted, gives the person the phone and the subject takes off with it," said Lt. Lupe Canales-Shrum with the Fresno State Police Department.
For thieves, smartphones can mean quick cash. Many of the phones end up on Craigslist and can easily sell for a couple hundred bucks. "It's created a black market for phones. And unfortunately, there are people out there that will steal your phone and put it online," said Hector Palacios, the owner of iDoctor Repairs in Northeast Fresno.
Palacios said cell phone companies are trying to prevent the re-sale of stolen phones and protect people's information when they are lost or stolen. For example, Apple's Find My iPhone allows people to track their phone via GPS or remotely set a password. You can also reset your phone from afar, wiping it clear of your data if it becomes lost or stolen.
While that technology can protect your personal information and passwords stored on your phone, few stolen phones are ever recovered. Companies' attempts to "blacklist" stolen phones using electronic serial numbers are also not always effective. "They will find a way around it. You can wipe a phone and it can still be used, unfortunately," said Palacios.
So how do you protect yourself? Sgt. Hudson says prevention is key. "Know your surroundings. Don't have them out, using them in areas and being inattentive in what's going around you? because that's when thieves take the opportunity," said Hudson.
As for Thomas-Virrueta, she and her staff have become much more aware. Now, her cell phone is always kept out of view. "I know it's an expensive commodity, but I didn't realize it was so easy for them to steal and phone and then resell it immediately," said Thomas-Virrueta.
According to police, many cell phones vanish when they are left on a store shelf or anywhere else in clear view. Experts recommend that you think about your phone as a mini-computer that is just as valuable as that computer -- something you definitely don't want to leave laying around.
Protecting your cell phone and your information in case of loss/theft:
Keep record of your phone's serial number. This could help police reunite you with your phone, if it is recovered.
Consider activating Find my iPhone (on iPhones) or an app like Lost (for Androids). These programs will allow you to track your phone in case it becomes lost or stolen. While it may not be safe for you to confront whoever took your phone, you can at least pass along the information to police. Whether they use that information to track your phone is up to the particular agency, but it has worked in some cases.
Apps like Find my iPhone and Lost will also allow you to remotely wipe the phone, erasing your personal data and restoring it to its original settings should it become stolen. This will help keep your passwords, logins, and online accounts safe.
Always be aware of your surroundings. In some cities, experts recommend not having your phone in plain sight... where thieves can just walk up and grab it from you. Don't become an easy target by being distracted.
Find my iPhone: http://bit.ly/UJjFym
Android Lost: http://bit.ly/ZTmt0C
Was your phone lost or stolen?
File a police report and call your cell phone provider. Some will put your phone on a so-called 'blacklist,' so it won't be able to be re-activated.
Buying or selling a phone? Things to keep in mind:
When selling: use caution when, where, and who you meet. Some experts recommend meeting a prospective buyer at a cell phone retailer or repair shop, where both parties can assure that a phone has a clean serial number and can be activated.
If you are buying a used phone, make sure the phone has a clean serial number and it hasn't been reported lost or stolen. You don't want to end up with a phone that cannot be activated.