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Protect your ‘texter’: Preventing phone theft at FGCU

Imagine you are eating dinner in the SoVi dining hall, and you have set $600 on the table next to your plate. You need a drink refill, so you leave your seat for five minutes. Would you walk away and leave the $600 on the table unattended?

Sounds like a no-brainer question, but in April 2012 a resident of SoVi did just that. She left her iPhone 4 worth $600 on the table while she went to get another drink, according to the campus police report about the theft of her phone. The SoVi incident was one of three cell phone thefts in April 2012 and among 24 total thefts of items on campus that month, according to the campus crime log.

How can students protect themselves from phone thieves? The Florida Gulf Coast University Police website explains that a crime requires three ingredients: a perpetrator’s ability to commit the crime, the desire to commit a crime, and the opportunity. The last one, opportunity, is where students have the ability to protect themselves against theft and other crimes.

“The biggest problem we have on campus is the opportunity,” Lt. Tom Halvorsen of the University police department said. “They [students] leave them [phones] lying around.”

A review of 11 police reports from 2012 showed that in nine incidents the victim reported having deliberately laid the phone down. Only two students had no idea how the phone had left their possession. Five students reported they had deliberately set the phone aside for an extended period, typically to participate in an athletic or fitness activity. The remaining four reported leaving the phone unattended briefly, for about five minutes, in a place such as a restroom or eatery.

“These are crimes of convenience,” Halvorsen said. “Sometimes the temptation is too great — a lot of crimes here are crimes of simple opportunity.”

Students may feel the tracking application on their phones will protect them if their phone gets stolen, but in none of the surveyed cases did the app result in the retrieval of the phone. The phone only relays its location when it is turned on. Thieves know this so they turn the phones off, Halvorsen said.

Only three cases out of the 11 resolved with the victims getting their phones back or getting compensated. In those three cases, a combination of campus security cameras and a means of attaching a name to the alleged thief’s portrait solved the crime.

Two incidents in August 2012 were solved by this lucky combination. In the first police report, a delivery person wearing a uniform for a furniture store was captured on video pocketing a phone set aside by the resident hall director to whom he was delivering furniture. University police contacted the delivery person’s employer, which sent a reimbursement check because the employee admitted he stole the phone. He claimed he no longer had the phone because he got scared and threw the it out the window along Alligator Alley.

Halvorsen said this claim was believable because many of these thefts happen on impulse and the thief later realizes a stolen phone lacks value because it is too traceable and cannot be reactivated in the United States. However, in an incident from July 2012, the victim reported that Apple told her stolen iPhones frequently get sent overseas where restrictions on reactivation do not exist.

In the second case solved by a camera, a student’s phone was lifted from the checkout counter at the bookstore. The clerk was able to use the video to match up the thief’s purchase by credit card. The credit slip listed his name, and UPD used this information to obtain his classroom number from the registrar’s office.

Halvorsen provided the following tips for students to protect themselves against theft:

Never leave your phone or other personal items unattended, even briefly. Always lock your car, as thefts from unlocked cars on campus are on the rise. Be sure to record the make, model and serial number of your phone and other valuables so if they are stolen you can add this information to the police report. The police input this tracking information into a national crime information database.

“Luck with recovery goes way up when I take reports with make, model and serial number,” Halvorsen said. “Make a little diary with this information for things you bring to college.”

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