Do you know how much your phone is worth?
Thieves do, and Scranton police are struggling to stem a recent trend of muggers stealing unwitting talkers’ and texters’ smartphones as they walk down the street.
“They’re quick cash for anybody that can get a hold of them,” said acting Police Chief Carl Graziano. “I’m talking to you on an iPhone right now that’s worth a few hundred.”
In the past couple of months, robbers have stolen about a dozen cellphones in quick sidewalk muggings, most of which occurred in the Hill Section.
But robbers seem to be targeting the owners of only a few types of phones, Chief Graziano said. Those with an iPhone in their hand as they walk down the street are most at risk.
Last week, an 18-year-old University of Scranton student pulled out his smartphone in the 500 block of Clay Avenue and started to tap out a text, looking for the address of a party, police said. A pair of muggers ran up to him, pushed him to the ground and asked him if he had an iPhone.
No, he had a Droid, he told them.
The muggers asked him what else he had, took a handful of cash from him and left without the phone.
Just this past weekend, two more people found themselves the victims of muggings, but neither lost more than a cellphone.
The first happened in West Side at about 9:15 Saturday night.
An 18-year-old woman walking on South Main Avenue had just about reached Washburn Street when a 6-foot-tall white man dressed in a black hat and jacket, blue jeans and white sneakers grabbed her Galaxy S3 out of her hands as she was texting.
The thief ran up Washburn Street with the phone, which sells for as much as $750 at Bestbuy.com.
About an hour and a half later, a 36-year-old woman got out of her husband’s car as he dropped her off at work at Moses Taylor Hospital. A black man in his early 20s, about 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighing about 160 pounds and wearing a black skull cap and down jacket, approached her, said hello and took her HTC smartphone.
“With the smartphones out there, they’re essentially mini-computers. … They’re selling them privately, and in certain places that they can turn them in for quick cash,” said Chief Graziano.
He declined to comment on which businesses are buying the phones, or whether they too are under investigation.
As for the thieves, Chief Graziano said undercover officers have spent peak crime hours in the Hill Section, hoping to catch cellphone muggers in the act. So far, the effort has been unsuccessful.
City police detectives did arrest two Lackawanna College students charged with two Hill Section muggings. But hope that the cellphone muggings would stop with the arrests of Christopher Young and Jihad Linney was soon dashed.
Chief Graziano did point out a few common characteristics of the recent robberies that could be useful to keep in mind if you have a smartphone in your hands and would like to keep it there.
For one thing, the robbers seem to be targeting individuals walking alone with their cellphones already in their hands late at night or early in the morning.
“They’re not usually attacking unless they believe they have a cellphone,” Chief Graziano said. Other than that, the robbers usually work in teams, outnumbering their lone targets by at least one, he said.The Times-Tribune