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Schumer & Schneiderman Tackle Smartphone Crime

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Major cities across the Northeast are experiencing a spike in robberies, driven by crimes involving smartphones. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer are taking steps to discourage thieves from targeting the devices.

Every minute, 113 smartphones are stolen or lost nationwide, according to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who co-founded a partnership with the wireless industry called Secure Our Smartphones. The initiative has picked up support from 30 other state attorneys general.

The Secure Our Smartphones initiative is intended to crack down on what authorities have dubbed "Apple picking" — because iPhones and iPads have become the most sought-after devices, bringing up to 10 times their value in black market sales overseas. "Apple picking" is the fastest-growing street crime in New York City. Schneiderman says 20 percent of the robberies committed in 2012 in New York City  involved smartphones and tablets, a 40 percent increase from the year before.

Thieves are able to turn cell phones into cash remarkably fast: the A-G contends that implementation of a "kill switch" would render stolen devices inoperable on any network, anywhere in the world. By eliminating the ability for the phone to be reactivated, the incentive to steal them would be eliminated.

Come November 30th, a new "stolen cell phone registry" goes live; Senator Schumer says victims of theft will be able to call their carrier and report the device stolen. The phone is added to the registry in case it pops up elsewhere and the carrier will be able to remotely disable the phone rendering it worthless.

Schumer wants to toughen the law by making it illegal to change a mobile phone's unique identification number, which is how carriers identify, activate or disable any one unit. The Senator was in Rochester this week, a city where three out of every four reported robberies are associated with cellphones. He says thieves have figured out how to change the ID number.

Schumer's proposed legialtion would send anyone convicted of changing a phone's ID number to up to five years in prison. Meantime, Schneiderman and his fellow AG's have dashed a letter off to to major smartphone manufacturers including Motorola and Samsung, urging them to install software that would make it difficult for thieves to scrub stolen devices clean and re-sell them on the black market.


The letter notes that South Korean mobile phones already use "kill switch" technology, which "raises the questions as to what the manufacturers are capable of doing if one country has already mandated a more robust response."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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