Samsung phone thefts soar 51 percent (and Apple’s ‘kill-switch’ is blamed)

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Click to read the full reporter (PDF)

While kill-switch-friendly law enforcement officials on both coasts are patting themselves on the back over what they say is a sharp drop in iPhone thefts, the headline has been buried.  Here it is: Samsung phone thefts are up 51 percent this year vs. last year.  There must be quiet a black market for that silly pulse meter.  Hold on to your Galaxy’s, people.  That’s a remarkable increase, and I sure wish someone would highlight it.  (That’s what I’m here for).

The New York attorney general’s office got all the major media outlets to write a story saying iPhone thefts have plummeted this year. It strongly hinted that the “Secure Our Smartphones” initiative, a joint operation of New York, San Francisco, and London officials, is the cause.  The main manifestation of that initiative so far is Apple’s new kill-switch-like software, called “Activation Lock.”  In a report, the AG says iPhone thefts were down 17 percent in the first five months of this year compared to last year. Thefts dropped even faster in San Francisco and London, the report says.

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This seems to be good news, but let’s not go data-crazy here. Law enforcement officials believe when those who buy and sell phones learn the gadgets are easily bricked, or rendered useless, criminals just stop stealing them.  True, but it’s not quite that simple. It’s hard for to believe that Apple’s software, which is optional, dried up an entire black market within a few months.  Criminals do adjust quickly, of course — as quickly as any high-volume trading market does — but I suspect bricked phones aren’t the main cause.  I think it’s about product cycles.  Galaxy phones are hotter now, and we’re nearing the end of the iPhone upgrade cycle.  The idea that criminals switched to Samsung because they were slower to implement a kill feature as simple as Apple’s Activation Lock strikes me as overly simplistic, if not misleading. (Samsung did release its “Reactivation Lock” feature in April, though it is limited).

Mind you, I’m a kill switch supporter, and it’s insane that this feature has taken so long to arrive. The FCC believes smart phones play a role in 1 out of 3 robberies in America, and astonishing statistic. It’s taken state laws, international law enforcement coalitions, and public embarrassment. This week’s news is designed to shame for cell phone makers and network operators to deploy kill switch technology, and I’m all for that.  I’m not a fan of playing with numbers, however.

Samsung says it’s working as fast as it can to update its anti-theft technology.  Well, work faster. For now, Galaxy users: hold on tight in the subway. With those beasts, you probably need both hands.  It bears repeating: Samsung thefts are up 51 percent in New York, and probably in your town, too.

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About Bob Sullivan 1637 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.