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Thieves opting for electronics over wallets

A report by the New York Police Department shows that electronics accounted for more than half of the nearly 16,000 robberies in the city during the first 10 months of the year, with smart phones leading the pack, according to the New York Daily News. That makes electronic items the most stolen property type - even above cash.

The number one item taken by thieves is the iPhone, which makes up over 70 percent of all stolen cell phones on subways and buses, according to the report. And, the NYPD estimates that these numbers are conservative because record-keeping can be shoddy at times.

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It's not just New York. Across the country in San Francisco, 40 cell phone-muggings were reported in November alone, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. This type of theft has also replaced the usual kind of quick purse and wallet robbery in the coastal city. In San Francisco especially, almost all the cell phone thefts include some kind of assault, the paper reports.

"You're focused on your phone, talking, and you get sucker punched," Tenderloin Station Capt. Joe Garrity told the Chronicle.

Even though there are products to help track lost cell phones, simply removing the SIM card or putting the phones in a black box that stops electromagnetic interference can stop those services. Also, the amount of personal data stored on smartphones makes identity theft a huge risk. Simply setting up a password or downloading a program that will allow a "remote wipe" of personal data can help alleviate that potential headache.

But Sgt. Mark Obrochta, head of the Tenderloin undercover division, pointed out that most thieves aren't interested in personal information, but the actual product itself. While criminals can't exactly tell how much money is in a purse, they know the worth of a cell phone. On the street, and iPhone 4S can go for $300 to $400, the Chronicle reports. Some bodegas in New York even offer teens $100 for any products they can steal, sources told the Daily News.

In New York, authorities and lawmakers are trying to make changes to alleviate this crime trend. In August, New York Sen. Charles Schumer proposed creating a "blacklist" of stolen devices and a database which records each item's identification number so a device can easily be disabled remotely. This means any item reported stolen would not be able to work on any network. Right now, all robbers have to do is replace the SIM card inside the phone, and it is nearly impossible to track.

The NYPD also is planning to conduct sting operations to crack down on smartphone theft sales and a public awareness campaign that would show video of actual thefts, the News reported.