The concept of theft is as old as mankind itself – for centuries we’ve found ways to steal from each other, swindle each other, and far, far worse. And the advent of modern smartphone technology has only increased this incredibly pertinent issue.
But what has the impact been for individuals? On the one hand, mobile technology has advanced so much that we can implement first-class security measures, but nevertheless the price of these technologies makes them all the more desirable to criminals. Let’s examine the data to investigate whether mobile phone theft is a modern-day crime wave and, if so, what can be done to prevent it.
Smartphones are oftentimes our most valuable personal possessions, and we always have them on us! This makes them a prime target for thieves and muggers. Unlike credit and debit cards, which can be deactivated easily and have no intrinsic value aside from what they represent, a smartphone can easily be sold off, whether the thieves can get full access to it or not! And this issue is only exacerbated by the fact that smartphones are only increasing in price, as the technology inside them becomes more and more advanced.
In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, theft from a person accounts for between 3% and 7% of all crimes reported to the police in England and Wales. The majority of these thefts are classed as ‘stealth thefts’ meaning that the property is stolen without the owner being aware; for example, if someone took your phone from a jacket pocket on the tube. This is in contrast to ‘snatch theft’, which would involve the perpetrator quickly taking the property, without force, and fleeing the scene.
The data from the ONS shows that theft from a person (which includes phones) was on a steady incline from the mid-90s onward. One of the main reasons for this is that, around this period, mobile phones were becoming a popular consumer item – and at the time they were very valuable and lacking in modern security features. This trend continued through the 2000s – fluctuating year-on-year, as you’d expect – as mobile phones became more commonplace and the original smartphones were entering the market.
A Problem in Decline
In 2012, the National Crime Survey – which supplies data to the ONS – reported that there were roughly 608,000 theft from a person incidents across England and Wales, which was a high for the decade. However, since then, theft from person cases – including those including smartphones – have fallen year on year. A key factor for this continual decline could be that smartphone security has improved to a point that it’s no longer worth stealing them; with Face ID, trackers, and fingerprint scanners, it’s now harder for criminals to wipe and fence stolen property. It’s also possible that, due to the ubiquity of smartphones, the desire to steal them has simply decreased.
While the decline in personal theft is a good sign overall, it’s important to stipulate that smartphone theft is still a constant criminal threat. For example, between April 2017 and April 2018, 39% of all theft from a person reports in England and Wales were smartphone-related. This was the second-highest stolen personal item, being 10% more likely to be stolen than credit cards, wallets, or handbags. Unsurprisingly, cash was the most stolen item across this time period.
Who is most at risk?
Somewhat surprisingly, in 2018/19 those most at risk of phone theft are adults between the ages of 25-35. According to the research, this age group accounted for 14.9% of all phone thefts from a person. This could be due to the fact that this age group are more likely to have expensive phone models, and are more likely to be in a position where they could have their phone stolen. 1 in 10 mobile phone thefts were committed against children under the age of 18, with 14-17 year olds being the most at risk.
Our data offers a unique insight into the frequency of smartphone thefts and the most densely targeted locations, based on the number of claims that are made each year.
The data shows that London accounts for 14% of all phone insurance claims, with claims in Essex reaching just over half that number. This is hardly surprising considering the total population of these two regions. Combined, the capital and the South East makeup ⅕ of the UK’s phone insurance claims, regardless of the reason.
According to the data, 10% of all theft claims come from London, with 1 in 5 occurring in East London postcodes and 1 in 10 occurring in West London. A prominent reason for this could simply be that East London has a larger total population than the western postcodes, which would account for the disparity in apparent smartphone thefts.
Data from the wider United Kingdom shows that only a very small part of phone insurance claims are for theft – suggesting that 1 in 20 smartphone owners have their device stolen each year. When compared with the statistics in London, this suggests that phone users are twice as likely to have their personal property stolen in the city than anywhere else. In fact, if you look at all of the theft claims across the United Kingdom, Londoners account for 30.7%.In terms of smartphone models, the data also indicates who might be most at risk. Looking at the entirety of the UK, 68.6% of stolen phones are iPhones. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise as the iPhone is one of the most popular smartphones in the country. That being said, there is a huge disparity between the iPhone’s popularity and the fact that they are the most stolen phone model. One possible answer is that flagship iPhones tend to be more expensive than other models, which may make them more attractive to would-be thieves. Conversely, the second most popular smartphone model in the UK – Samsung – accounts for only 20% of all smartphone thefts.
When it comes to smartphone theft it might seem like there is little you can do to protect yourself – but this isn’t the case!
In fact, recent years have seen a huge amount of information circulated on the matter – meaning that it can be difficult knowing where to start. In this case, charities can be a brilliant point of reference as they often work alongside authoritative bodies and industry experts to ensure that information is relayed accurately. Not only do they provide in-depth advice on how to safeguard yourself against phone theft, but they also offer support to individuals that have fallen victim to theft.
loveit coverit have researched charities such as Out Of Your Hands to compile a list of the best advice when it comes to mobile phone crime.
Crime Stoppers is a charity that offers an anonymous voice to those who need it.
The organisation’s research has identified that almost one-fifth of people refrain from making a report due to a reluctance to speak with the police. As a result, they work tirelessly to provide an alternative and will pass on pertinent information on your behalf. Having contributed to over 140,000 arrests, Crime Stoppers hold a unique perspective on the crime landscape and, as such, offer brilliant insight as to how best protect yourself from crimes such as theft.
Out Of Your Hands is a charity dedicated to the safeguarding of mobile phone use in children.
When launched in 2004 the organisation looked to combat the rising numbers of mobile thefts, scam and fraud cases, as well as online bullying with the sponsorship of the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum behind them. Fast-forward to today and their cause is supported by a number of major mobile operators; such as 02 and Vodafone.
With their prime purpose being to educate the public on safer mobile practices, the charity provides a vast selection of resources informed by educational specialists and teachers exploring issues such as; phone theft, identity theft, and overall online safety.
Be Safe is a crime prevention campaign led by the Met Police that strives to better inform the public on how to safeguard their property against theft.
The campaign believes that although there is widespread awareness of basic crime prevention, too often the corresponding behaviours are not enacted. As a result, Be Safe offers support to Londoners by examing why these behaviours are not taken and how this may be rectified.
The campaign offers three focus areas including scooter theft, burglary and mobile phone theft and offers educational resources for each.
“In recent years loveit coverit has seen a stark rise in the number of mobile theft claims made in London and surrounding areas. Daunting as it may be, this data exemplifies why purchasing insurance is such an important element of phone ownership as our mobiles are often a costly possession that we cannot afford to lose. Outside of insurance, individuals can guard against phone theft by educating themselves on common safeguarding measures.”
Whilst the physical theft of smartphones is an evident and pressing concern, it is also vital that we consider the ways in which we can safeguard ourselves against cybercrime.
‘In our current digital world, the threat of cybercrime is ever-increasing. At present, our records identify the most prominent threat to be that of mobile banking trojans as they cause many individual’s direct financial loss. Alongside this, we can also identify the two biggest threat categories to be adware and riskware – a major element of these threats being ‘stalkerware’. The programmes used survey victims, monitor their activities as well as track their movements. Unfortunately, the number of detections for these programs have risen substantially; from 40,386 in 2018 to 67,500 in 2019. Although many individuals invest in anti-virus protection for their computer or laptop, mobile phone protection is often neglected. It is our view that the government should be taking more proactive measures, such as utilising mass public advertising, to inform the public of such risks.’
In our most recent infographic, we’ve compiled our independent data along with third-party sources to demonstrate the scale of smartphone theft in the UK. This includes a succinct breakdown of our claims data – showing how much more at risk those that live in urban areas are of phone theft – as well as a more in-depth look at the historic data providing by the Office for National Statistics and UK Police forces.
If you want to get all of the information, make sure that you read the full report!
With over 967 reported cases of phone theft on public transport in January 2020 alone, it’s clear that now, more than ever, our favourite devices are at risk when we travel. To ensure that your gadget remains safe, wherever you’re going, read this guide for a few quick tips about protecting your phone on the UK’s transport network.
Experiencing a theft is one of the disrupting things that can happen to a person – and the theft of a smartphone is one of the most invasive and damaging. With those in urban centres more at risk than others, it’s important that you know how to protect your belongings, whether you’re out and about or simply at home. Hopefully this top 5 tips can help!