Nanaimo RCMP released a photo from surveillance footage of a man suspected of stealing two cellphones from the Bell store in Woodgrove Centre in April.

Nanaimo RCMP released a photo from surveillance footage of a man suspected of stealing two cellphones from the Bell store in Woodgrove Centre in April.

Thieves targeting victims for cell phones

NANAIMO – Thefts and muggings for cell phones on the rise and the situation is getting worse, say police.

Police in Nanaimo say cellphones are fast becoming the hot item on criminals’ most wanted lists.

Since January 1 there have been 122 reported incidents of phones stolen during break and enters or thefts in public places. Of those, seven phones were stolen during robberies.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said police receive weekly reports of phones stolen from lockers, change rooms, cars and at parties.

“We estimate the figure is at least 25 per cent higher than what is reported,” O’Brien said.

Stolen phones are often sold to drug dealers in exchange for drugs, are used by criminals for personal calls until they are cut off by the service provider, sold online or have their SIM cards removed, so they can be reactivated by service providers.

The reported thefts of cellphones has been fairly consistent over the past several years, but O’Brien said the frequency of thefts is likely to rise as increasing numbers of cellphones are sold. Most phones are stolen when left unattended, but there have been cases where thieves have followed their intended targets, waiting for an opportunity to snatch a phone while victims are preoccupied texting or searching data.

“Criminals are often stalking kids on their phones and they’re looking for that opportunity to take the phone,” O’Brien said. “The kids don’t even know who’s around them in their environment. They’ll put the phone down for a second and, boom, it’s gone.”

Sometimes violence is used to snatch the device. In April, Jordan Sunnus, 16, was struck in the face and knocked to the ground when a man tried to take his cellphone. Sunnus applied karate and Brazilian jiu jitsu techniques that thwarted his attacker, but police suggest not putting up a fight during a robbery, since a culprit could prove to be unpredictable and dangerous. Instead hand the phone over, make note of the suspect’s description and report the incident to the police as soon as possible.

There are ways to help prevent your phone from being stolen. Police recommend the following:

– Never leave your phone unattended.

– Look up from time to time and survey your surroundings when texting or surfing.

– Have an action plan. If you think you’re being followed be prepared to remove yourself from the situation.

– Have an app installed that tracks your phone if it is lost or stolen. The sooner it is located the better the chance of retrieving it.

Your phone should also be set to lock out after a set period of time. Having an app installed that will remotely lock the phone and remove data is also useful.

Nanaimo Mounties are also asking for the public’s help to find a man who allegedly stole two smart phones from the Bell Store in Woodgrove Centre April 19.

The suspect was caught on security camera taking a BlackBerry Z10 and Apple iPhone 4S then leaving the store.

The suspect is believed to be aboriginal in his early to mid-20s. He has short dark hair and was wearing blue jeans and a dark hoodie with a small logo on the front.

Anyone with information about this suspect, please call Const. Joe Furtmann of the Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.nanaimocrimestop