iPhone thefts in Hong Kong subway system

In a city passionate about anything related to Apple, it is not surprising to see a whole bench of MTR passengers kept busy with their iPhones or iPads reading the news, playing games or browsing Facebook updates. But while they are busy tinkering with their devices, someone might be hatching a plan to steal those valuable possessions.

Police records show that the number of iPhones stolen has tripled in the first ten months of this year compared with last year. Just as I mentioned the increasing number of groping incidents at busy subway trains, this just goes to show that a busier MTR station is a favorable landscape for criminals.

iPhone 4S buyers in Hong Kong form a line while waiting for product launch. Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/williamli1983

Of the 118 mobile phones reported stolen in the period, 80 were iPhones. Last year’s figures only had 27 iPhones reported stolen. Maybe because the number of iPhone owners weren’t as many as there are now? Perhaps owners need to be reminded once again about how to keep an eye on their belongings. Most of the victims were women targeted as they took the escalators or when they entered or left the trains.

Do criminals think it’s easier to steal iPhones on a busy transport system than queue for days in a long line hoping to get hold of a new version of the popular smartphone? Maybe experience says so. The launch of iPhone 4S in Hong Kong was a disappointing experience to many fans, some of whom came from distant places, becausea  shortage in supply meant not everyone would get one in the first wave. Opportunistic businessmen who lined ahead of the pack made a killing on the grey market, selling iPhones at hyperinflated prices. The apparent high demand for iPhones makes them lucrative commodities to sell even when they come from illicit sources.

“[Stolen] iPhones can sell for HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 each in Hong Kong and a few hundred dollars more on the mainland,” railway district senior inspector Bowen Leung Yiu-kwong said.

Losing an iPhone poses more risks than just replacing the unit. While owners of older phones often lament losing a list of contacts and need to ask everyone to update the victim’s new phone book, iPhones carry more than just personal contacts. For instance, Apple’s iTunes Store may keep credit card details used when buying Apple applications. Encouraged by its much better photo resolution, victims may have kept precious photos — not to mention those only meant for private viewing. Even if password protection may save owners from deeper trouble — thieves can reset the whole phone and erase all data stored — the price of an iPhone itself already warrants serious attention.