Cell phone thefts on the rise in Austin - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Cell phone thefts on the rise in Austin

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They were wearing Halloween masks...like the "Jason"-style hockey mask from the Friday the 13th movies.

Police say three or four Hispanic males went on a crime spree this weekend that resulted in six armed robberies in East Austin.

"Putting a gun into people's faces and demanding and taking property and you're talking about an aggravated robbery first degree felony offense," said Sgt. Jonathan Herring with Austin Police.

Police told FOX 7 a cell phone was one of the items the bandits took from at least one of their victims.

FOX 7 requested information from Austin P.D. on the number of cell phones reported lost or stolen over the past three years.

Number of cell phones stolen by year

  • 2011: 1,726
  • 2012: 2,223
  • 2013: 1,732

At this rate, we're well on track to surpass the 2012 numbers by the year's end.

"I see the effects on people who have a personal product that's specific to them. They sort of feel like they lost a part of them self," said Alfonso Rodriguez, owner of BestBuyCells.com.

They buy and sell refurbished cell phones.

Rodriguez says 95 percent of his business comes from recyclers but the other 5 percent are individuals. So he checks with the carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T.

"Whenever somebody comes in and tries to sell us a phone, we cross check against their database of lost or stolen phones to make sure it hasn't been reported lost or stolen," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez says the carrier will tell them if a particular phone is on a "do not activate list."

He says every now and then someone will try to pull a fast one on them.

"There's sometimes that you know it looks kind of questionable. They just say 'okay' and walk right out without saying anything and at that point you're just thinking in the back of your mind that may be a possibility of a stolen phone," Rodriguez said.

The new iOS 7 update for the iPhone has added even more protection for stolen phones.

Now thieves attempting to turn off the handy "Find My iPhone" app and restore the stolen iPhone to factory settings will need to enter the Apple ID and password first -- hard to come by if it's stolen.

Rodriguez says you don't have to worry about buying stolen phones from him, but he has some advice for anyone buying one from an individual.

"When you're buying from an individual on Craig's List, anything's possible so I would recommend is that if you're going to buy off of somebody from Craig's list, have them meet you at the store. So if you have a Verizon customer, have them meet you at the Verizon store. That way they can verify it right there before you do the transaction," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez says there are some really technical ways thieves can still wipe out phones despite the security measures but he says it's very difficult.

He also says most of the time, cell phone thieves will sell the phone for parts -- like the expensive iPhone screen.

Because he says the parts aren't associated with that stolen serial number.

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