TECH
09/18/2013 03:21 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2013

Police Brace For New Wave Of Thefts As iPhone 5S Hits Stores

As Apple fans flock to buy the new iPhone 5s on Friday, they may encounter not only a friendly Apple store employee, but also a police officer worried that their flashy new device will be snatched from their hands.

In New York, dozens of NYPD officers will visit Apple, Best Buy and AT&T stores this weekend to register serial numbers of newly-purchased iPhones and contact information of their buyers. The effort, dubbed "Operation ID," is aimed at helping consumers get their iPhones back if they are stolen.

Last September, NYPD launched "Operation ID" for the first time, deploying dozens of officers who asked people waiting in lines outside Apple stores before the iPhone 5 release to sign up for the program.

In 2012, New York City's overall crime rate increased due to a sharp spike in stolen Apple devices, which police say thieves often resell at bodegas and barber shops across the city -- and increasingly, to buyers around the world.

In Chicago, police will send additional officers Friday to a public transit stop near an Apple store on the city’s North Side. The officers will be there partly to control crowds, but also to watch for thieves looking to swipe newly-purchased iPhones from train passengers, according to Chicago Police Lt. Tom Clark.

“Obviously if Apple has a new product coming out, that’s going to be something criminals are going to be interested in,” Clark told The Huffington Post in an interview. The additional officers, he said, will “look out for people carrying iPhones home because they may be victims of a crime.”

The efforts by police in New York and Chicago reflect an unusual trend in a crime wave sweeping the country: iPhone thefts tend to decrease in the weeks leading up to a new iPhone release, then increase right after the new model reaches stores, as thieves target the hot new gadget.

A top NYPD official told CBS News last year that thieves slow their activity leading up to the launch of a new iPhone so they can wait to steal the newer model. "What we are seeing on the part of the crooks is that they follow the trends of the buying public," the officer said.

Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon urged iPhone owners on Wednesday to download the latest operating system, iOS 7, which features a new anti-theft measure known as Activation Lock.

The anti-theft feature is designed to render a phone inoperable when a thief attempts to turn off "Find My iPhone," a program that locates missing devices. The new operating system was released Wednesday.

Activation Lock is “an important first step towards ending the global epidemic of smartphone theft,” Schneiderman and Gascon said in a joint statement.

“In the months ahead, it is our hope that Activation Lock will prove to be an effective deterrent to theft, and that the widespread use of this new system will end the victimization of iPhone users, as thieves learn that the devices have no value on the secondary market,” said the two prosecutors, who partnered this summer to pressure phone makers to add security features that reduce phone thefts.

However, Schneiderman and Gascon said it was too soon to determine whether Apple's new anti-theft feature will be a comprehensive solution to stopping phone robberies. Consumers, for example, must activate the feature on their own, raising questions about how many will actually do so. Schneiderman and Gascon urged Apple to require iPhone owners to “opt-out” of the anti-theft feature instead to guarantee widespread adoption.

Gascón and Schneiderman also urged consumers to enable basic security features on the new iPhone, such as a password or the new fingerprint scanner to lock the device. But those measures are not sufficient on their own, they said.

"While password and fingerprint scanning security features can help protect data on a device, they do not deter thieves from stealing smartphones,” they said.

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