iPhone Thefts: 'Apple Picking' on the Rise

Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cities across the country are on alert as officials warn of an uptick in stolen Apple products, dubbed "Apple picking."

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 30-40 percent of robberies in several major cities involve cell phones, including 38 percent in Washington, D.C. and 40 percent in New York City.

Las Vegas police broke up two rings of cell phone thieves on September 6.

"What this started with, we had a normal report of a theft. Somebody stole someone's cell phone," said Bill Cassell of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. "Our officers started investigating and realized there were a lot of other similar instances."

The LVMPD connected these robberies because they all seemed to target similar victims.

"They were all targeting people in fast food restaurants, coffee shops, people walking on street," Cassell said. "The victims all had a similar profile too. They were all focused on their cells phones, inattentive of their surroundings and looked like they wouldn't put up a fight."

The thieves, many of them juveniles, would either ask to borrow the victim's cell phone and run off with it or simply grab it from their unsuspecting victims.

"We tracked down some of the individuals involved and in doing this, realized there were two groups of people doing the same crime the same way. But they weren't associated," said Cassell.

One of the groups was charged with 14 cell phone thefts. The other has been charged with seven thefts, but according to Officer Cassell, the investigation of 20-30 thefts is still on-going.

The recent increase in cell phone thefts has prompted action from both the government and major wireless carriers.

In April, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, along with Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced new initiatives to combat the thefts.

Genachowski announced the creation and implementation of a database to prevent the use of stolen smartphones. With this new system, which is expected to launch in the coming months, a cell phone user can report their device stolen and their carrier will block the device from being used.

Officials believe that the registry will cut cell phone thefts. Even more dangerous is the threat of stolen personal information stored on smartphones.

"That's what we're most worried about, the tremendous amount of information these people are stealing," Cassell said.

Beyond monetary consequences, many people are injured or even killed during robberies.

Hwangbum Yang, 26, a chef at a restaurant in Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, was shot and killed during a cell phone robbery on his way home from work in April.

In 2011, 17-year-old Prince Watson was charged with the murder of Sally Katona-King, 68, when he shoved her down the stairs in an attempt to steal her iPhone, according to ABC Chicago affiliate WLS.

And device thefts are not limited to the street or coffee shops.

Last week, a California man was accused of driving his SUV through an Apple store in Temecula and stealing thousands of dollars worth of display items. The investigation is still on-going.