Top Story: Lessons from an Attempted iPhone Theft
By Sandra Tarpinian
Personal stories often generate SuperVisions articles. The following account of an iPhone robbery, as told by Judy Morrison, a Senior IT Specialist at Headquarters, has lessons for all of us.
Judy Morrison checks her iPhone for messages near the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station, which is adjacent to OCC Headquarters.
In the Blink of an iPhone
It was a special, but not remarkable, day. I was headed into work for an event I had helped plan and was looking forward to seeing the program unfold. As I sat in the Washington, D.C., Metrorail car answering e-mails on my iPhone, I felt the phone being snatched from my hand. I caught sight of the face of a teenager as he and a second teen ran out of the car.
Before I knew it, I was chasing them across the Metro station platform shouting, “Stop! Thief! Metro Officer!” I was hoping to draw attention to what was happening and get help. The two thieves split up, and the one with my phone ran down the “up” escalator. So, I followed, with my briefcase over my shoulder and boots clomping. He sped through the turnstile with me 30 yards behind.
I glanced at the station manager’s empty kiosk as I went through the turnstile thinking, “What a time for him to be gone.” Well, he was gone because he had heard my screams, saw the boys had joined up and were running away, and called for assistance from a Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) police officer who was nearby.
I ran up to the officer and station manager and watched helplessly as the boys squeezed through a 10-foot-high security gate around a U.S. Postal Service compound and appeared to have gotten away. But the officer said the compound was a “secure area” and didn’t believe that they could get out easily. He jumped in his car to pursue.
The Metro station manager and I returned to the station and encountered two officers from the MTPD Counter-Terrorism unit. They pulled up in a large black SUV with tinted windows. The officers began taking down details about the incident. I borrowed the officer’s cell phone to call a friend who could track my stolen phone using the “Find Friends” iPhone app. My friend could see the location of the phone, and I relayed that to the officers. The officers called the first MTPD officer, and he was able to apprehend and handcuff the two teens who he thought had taken my phone.
We all hopped in the SUV and took off—sirens blaring and wheels squealing--to meet the officer and the suspects. We finally arrived at the parking lot where the suspects had been apprehended and spent the next two hours following police protocol. It wasn’t until then, as I sat safely in the back of the SUV, that I asked myself “what if the thieves had weapons?” Or, “what if it had been dark?” Hopefully, I would have had the sense to assess that situation and respond in a reasonable and safe way.
The police eventually called the cell phone number that I had provided, and the phone that they had confiscated from the suspects rang. One boy was arrested, my phone was returned, the officers drove me back to the Metro, and I resumed my trip downtown to the office as if nothing had happened. I guess it was a remarkable day, after all.
The rising tide of cell phone theft
Judy Morrison’s story is a personal one but one that thousands of people experience each day. According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), theft of wireless devices, particularly smartphones, is rising sharply across the United States.
The FCC, wireless providers and equipment manufacturers, law enforcement officials from many major cities, and other policymakers have collaborated to develop strategies to minimize the aftermarket for stolen phones. Consumer education campaigns, an integrated database designed to prevent the reactivation of stolen phones, and better apps and tracking software are all attempts to stem the tide of phone thefts. Ultimately, though, it is up to users to protect their phones and the personal information it may contain.
The FCC Web site offers these suggestions to protect your personal smartphone:
The FCC Web site provides additional information about protecting your smartphone from loss or theft.
Last Updated: 12/15/2014