Victims of cellphone robberies and thefts need not be defenseless, even as NYPD data show the problem is on the rise.
Verizon spokesman David Samberg advises that both the handheld device and the storage card, known as a SIM card, should be deactivated when a phone is stolen.
Thieves sometimes just want to use the Wi-Fi or call functions on devices that haven't been fully disabled, Samberg said, or they sell the devices on the street or online: "A lot of times, when people will say, 'Oh, I'm going to save some money, I'm going to buy a phone online.' We always say be careful.
"If you walk into our store to activate it and that phone is flagged as stolen, we may not activate it," Samberg said.
Unlike Verizon, some carriers disable just the storage card and not the device, allowing the stolen cellphones to be used again, said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Thieves just swap one storage card for another, he said.
The senator has been urging wireless carriers to help reduce such crimes by disabling phones based on their unique identification numbers and flagging them as stolen.
Schumer has been citing New York City police numbers, which show a rise in cellphone-related property crimes, from 10,650 in 2009 to 11,730 last year.
As handheld devices grow ever more powerful and useful, they've become more coveted.
In the Washington, D.C., metro system, signs warn people to be careful of their mobile devices, especially if they're sitting near the doors, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for Consumer Federation of America. "Let's face it. Cellphones are expensive," she said. "They're popular, so it's not surprising they'd be a target of theft."
Here are some tips for protecting handheld devices
1. Use passwords.
2. Report stolen devices immediately to carrier and police.
3. Ask carrier to deactivate both the device and any storage card, known as the SIM card. Some devices don't have SIM cards.
4. Wipe out stored data remotely -- sometimes the carrier must do this -- if the device does not do it automatically when too many wrong passwords have been tried.
5. Consider insurance that will pay for new device.
6. Buy handheld devices from authorized carriers.