Despite security developments such as iPhone’s ‘kill switch’ and the Samsung S10’s 3D fingerprint scanner, millions of phones per year are still stolen from unsuspecting victims across the world. In the USA alone, 70 million smartphones are lost every year and of those, only 7 percent are recovered, according to Channel Pro Network.

We’ve investigated the wider implications of smartphone theft to help you keep your gadgets and data safe, no matter where you are.




Types of mobile phone theft

In a BBC interview, DI Louise Drinkwater of the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit, reveals some of the main techniques used by thieves looking to snap up your phone. Find out about the different types of mobile phone theft below:

1. The distraction method

The distraction method is used by thieves to snatch something when the owner isn’t looking. Usually, this is when a phone is left alone on a table and someone walks by and picks it up, whilst another person is distracting the phone’s owner.

This can also occur when someone rides past you on a bike and snatches your phone, or as you’re getting off a bus or train and you’re not as concerned about your surroundings.

2. Pickpocketing

This is also listed as another common way criminals can pick up your phone whilst you’re not looking. DI Drinkwater states that ‘people leave their phones in their back pockets or their bags with the zips undone, and its easy picking for thieves.’



The bigger picture

These days losing a phone isn’t only about losing a sum of money, even though some modern phones cost upwards of £1000. Perhaps, what some criminals may find even more valuable than upfront cash, is the amount of data that can be obtained from just one device.

Mobile contactless payments

WeChat is currently the biggest mobile-payment platform with over 1 billion active users, whilst Apple Pay and Google Pay have 383 million and 24 million active users, respectively.  Therefore, thieves have countless chances to take advantage of a stolen phone; emphasising the importance of keeping a close eye on your device.

The levels of contactless fraud, including through mobile devices, reached £8.2m in the first half of 2018 - The Independent

Generally, there is a £30 limit on contactless payments in the UK to help combat fraud, however, in many cases, banks do not impose limits on how many contactless payments can be made in a day. This means that, potentially, a thief can empty your bank account within 24 hours.

Of course, banks have systems in place deter criminals and prevent fraud, and organisations such as Citizens Advice can help if it’s already too late. However, according to Merchant Savvy mobile payments are set to become the second most popular payment method by 2022, behind debit cards and ahead of credit cards. This means that now’s the time to make sure your mobile phone is safe and secure.

Stolen data 

If your phone is unlocked, a thief can easily access your sensitive information, passwords, pictures and banking details. 

One of the easiest ways to prevent your data from being stolen is by creating a secure passcode for your phone which, remarkably, 40% of people do not have. Samsung has taken this one step further by creating a 3D fingerprint scanner which provides an improved level of security for your phone.

Taking advantage of these smart security features will help you to make sure your details are safe when your phone is out of your hands.



Who are the worst affected?

It’s impossible to say that one person is more vulnerable than another when it comes to phone theft. However, if you’re insistent on keeping your smartphone safe from harm, it may help to be more vigilant in the following situations.


Unsurprisingly, festivals are a hot spot for theft of all kinds as they involve leaving your possessions in one spot for long periods. In 2017, over 200 phones were stolen at Coachella festival, highlighting the importance of keeping an eye on your valuables.


According to the Standard, thefts on the London Underground rose by 25 percent between 2017 and 2018, and on average, 12 people are pickpocketed per day. This has been attributed to the wide availability of expensive smartphones and the increasing number of unsuspecting tourists visiting the city.

As mentioned earlier, pickpocketing is one of the more commonly used methods to snatch phones, especially when you’re distracted on a busy train or tram. Make sure your phone is in a zipped pocket or bag to avoid losing your phone on your commute.

Business owners

The lines between work life and personal life are blurred in modern businesses, as many staff members have access to their work emails outside of the office through their smartphones. This presents significant legal complications for business owners if one of their staff members’ phones are stolen. 

Due to the GDPR, data breaches that aren’t disclosed to the ICO can result in fines of €20 million or 4% of the business’ revenue, whichever is higher. This is why it pays to be hyper-aware of the information you share with your employees.



The future of smartphone theft

Technology is transforming our lives every day, and in many cases for the better. Technological developments in the smartphone industry mean that the future for pickpockets and thieves looks rather bleak. Find out why below:

The National Property Register 

Immobilise is the UK’s National Property Register, which is used to help people retrieve their lost possessions. You simply register your smartphone’s unique IMEI on the system, and this information will be used to help track down your device if it’s stolen and resold. 

Immobilise was established back in 2003 and there are already 34 million devices registered on the system. Whilst this doesn’t prevent smartphone theft in the first instance, it can help to get valuables back in the hands of their owners.

Slippery smartphones

Swedish telecoms company, Ericsson, is reportedly working on a feature that will make phones too ‘slippy’ to steal. According to the Sun, this anti-theft technology works by using built-in sensors to detect how a phone is being picked up and, subsequently, making sure unauthorised users have a hard time picking up the device.

Machine learning

Research has shown that machine learning can be used to detect when a phone has been stolen. This system is designed to specifically detect ‘grab and run’ theft using smartphone accelerometer data.



It’s important to remember that your smartphone is much more than a piece of tech. It can hold precious memories and data, it can help you get in touch with loved ones and it can provide useful information at any given time. 

Keeping an eye on your phone will not only saving you time and money, but it will also help you to make sure your sensitive information is in the right hands.