Cell phones quickly becoming focus of armed robberies


by Mike Colombo / News 4


Posted on October 31, 2012 at 8:46 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 1 at 10:27 AM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- It’s something most of residents carry every day.  Armed robbers are targeting people for their cell phones at an alarming rate.  Tuesday night nine people were held at gunpoint for their phones.

The black market in St. Louis is booming because phones can be stolen and then easily reactivated by someone else.

A thief sees a smart phone as cash money in your hand.  It’s a crime wave striking coast to coast, but St. Louis is the first city to try to tackle it on a local level with a new law.

Cell phones are such a hot commodity police say nine people were robbed of their cell phones during an armed home invasion in North St. Louis Tuesday night.  On Monday an armed robber swiped a woman’s purse in South St. Louis.  A neighbor found her bag but not her phone.

Thieves often try to sell them in stores like Communication Depot, where owner Alex Alyatim has been on high alert for stolen phones.

“They’re becoming as valuable as gold,” Alyatim said.  “We’re seeing a lot of people coming in with phones they can’t activate because they have an incident reported on the phone.”

It’s a sure sign the phone is hot.  Alyatim asks to see an ID before he buys anything.  He says that often scares away illegal sellers.

“If they don’t have an ID, usually they’re asking for a low price,” Alyatim said.  “Let’s say they come in with an iPhone 4.  That’s usually in the market worth about $400.  They come in, and ask ‘can I have $50 for this phone?’  You know automatically, they just want to get rid of it.”

The city is getting hit hard by cell phone thieves, and some are turning deadly.

“If we dry up the market for stolen cell phones or secondhand cell phones that are stolen, then we’ll make these thefts and these robberies pretty much go away,” Jeff Rainford, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s Chief of Staff, said.

A new city law is in the works to require anyone buying and reselling cell phones to take the seller’s name, address, photo and thumbprint and to record the phone’s unique i.d. number. 

“I am 100 percent all for those,” Alyatim said.  If I get robbed and had $200 to $400 in a phone, I don’t want anybody taking that phone and using it on a different carrier.”

The information collected from sellers will be loaded into a database to help police catch the criminals.  The ordinance goes before the full board of aldermen this month.

You can also help protect yourself by downloading apps with a GPS tracker, such as “Find iPhone” onto your phone.  If your phone is stolen, you should report it immediately to both police and your cell phone carrier.

Mike Colombo has continued to look into this investigation and crackdown overnight. His live report is coming up on News 4 This Morning