Tonawanda, NY - March 29, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today was joined by Buffalo Congressman Brian Higgins, Tonawanda Town Supervisor Anthony Caruana and Tonawanda Police Chief Anthony Palombo at the Tonawanda Police Department to announce Congressman Higgins’ sponsorship of a bill – recently proposed in the United States House of Representatives – that would require a kill switch on smartphones to deter thieves and help end the violent epidemic of smartphone thefts. Attorney General Schneiderman also announced today that Supervisor Caruana and Chief Palombo have joined the Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S.) Initiative, an international coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs, attorneys general, public officials and consumer activists working to encourage the smartphone industry to implement meaningful solutions to stop the epidemic known as “Apple Picking” – the theft of popular mobile communications devices such as smartphones and tablets.
“The Secure Our Smartphones Initiative has called on cell phone carriers and manufacturers to implement the technology necessary to put a stop to the growing issue of violent smartphone thefts,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “I commend Congressman Higgins for his support and co-sponsorship of this revolutionary legislation that would require cell phone companies to finally put the safety of their customers above their bottom line. I also want to thank Supervisor Caruana and Chief Palombo for joining the initiative, and for their commitment to the safety and well-being of local families.”
“Cell phone thefts cost consumers as a whole more than $30 billion a year, are a drain on valuable law enforcement resources and are driven by a thriving underground resale market,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “By removing rapid turnaround value, we create a barrier that helps to reduce the threat to personal data and the incentive for the crime to happen in the first place.”
“The Attorney General understands that keeping people safe in the communities we represent is vitally important,” said Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana. “Smartphone theft is on the rise across the State of New York, and I’m proud to announce that I have joined the Attorney General’s Secure Our Smartphones coalition. I also want to thank Congressman Higgins for cosponsoring the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act.”
“By working to raise awareness of this type of crime now, we will hopefully be able to prevent future thefts from occurring,” said Town of Tonawanda Police Chief Anthony Palombo. “I want to thank Attorney General Schneiderman for making law enforcement a part of this coalition, and I urge the public to remember that smartphones are property that criminals may be looking for.”
Even as most types of property crime are falling, in communities across the United States and the United Kingdom, the theft of smartphones has spiked dramatically. In the United States, one in three thefts involves a mobile communications device. Consumer Reports estimates that 1.6 million Americans were victimized by smartphone thieves in 2012.
Last year, 50 percent of robberies in San Francisco targeted such a device. In New York City, the number was 20 percent, a 40 percent increase from the year before. In London, although crime overall is falling, offenses such as pickpocketing and bag snatches have risen by more than 15 percent this year. This is mainly driven by the theft of phones, with some 10,000 handsets stolen in the city every month.
Street-level thieves feed a massive global marketplace for stolen phones that is too large or lucrative for any single community to stop. Mobile devices that are reported stolen in the United States and no longer able to access domestic cell networks can be reactivated to work in foreign countries. In Hong Kong, for example, iPhones are worth upward of $2,000 apiece.
Launched early last year, the S.O.S. Initiative is an international coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs, state and city comptrollers, and public safety activists co-chaired by Attorney General Schneiderman, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and London Mayor Boris Johnson. Members of the initiative are committed to pressing the industry to find an effective way to combat the rise of often violent robberies involving smartphones.