The Blog

Forget the Artful Dodger, Pickpocketing's Gone Digital

In a bygone age, the Artful Dodger and his duplicitous pals would steal silk handkerchiefs and purses from unwitting members of the public.

In a bygone age, the Artful Dodger and his duplicitous pals would steal silk handkerchiefs and purses from unwitting members of the public.

Nowadays, we don't tend to carry silk handkerchiefs, but it's very normal for us to carry hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds worth of hardware in our handbags and pockets everyday - ripe for the picking. But it's not just losing gadgets to thieves that's the problem. Our private data, and our cash can be pilfered too by calling premium numbers set up by thieves.

According to a recent BBC report, it's possible to work out the PIN for a smartphone through its camera and microphone - by tracing the movement of our faces and listening to the clicks of our typing. This program was created by researchers at Cambridge University, but what's clear is the more sophisticated our technology becomes, the more technologically savvy scammers will become.

There are fears tech thieves can already take advantage of the vulnerabilities in tweaks in Android software and even supposedly secure banking apps.

The smartphone generation - those aged between 21-25 years - are the most likely demographic to be the victims of mobile theft according to Protect Your Bubble data. And it's university towns such as Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester where robbing is most rife and we see the highest number of theft claims.

The best way to stop scammers getting their hands on your private information and your money, is by stopping your phone being stolen in the first place. Prevention is better than cure.

Setting up a PIN is the first step you can take to stop opportunists making unauthorised calls to premium numbers before you have time to blacklist it, or even before you've realised your phone has gone. But the handset is still valuable because its PIN, along with the rest of your data, can be wiped.

Other crime-combatting measures you can take include not flashing your gadgets around in public (an opportunistic thief's dream), and keeping your wits about you. We process a lot of claims from theft victims and, increasingly, phones are being snatched from people's hands by thieves on bicycles and motorbikes.

Be sure to note down your IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) - a serial number unique to each phone. In the event of your phone being stolen and taken abroad, police forces can agree to put a block on the phone to prevent any unwanted usage.

The Metropolitan Police provide useful guidelines on how to mark property, with useful tips such as marking your phone electronically using the Immobilise website and marking the handset and its battery with UV pens. Police search the Immobilise database for the rightful owners should they find stolen goods. Also, downloading an app such as FindMyiPhone which uses GPS tracking software to locate your phone, can help the police catch criminals.

Most people don't know the true value of replacing a smartphone, because the cost is absorbed in their monthly mobile contracts. Taking out insurance will mean you have a replacement handset in a very short period of time - without having to fork out £500 upfront for a new one.

So, if you own an expensive smartphone - and chances are you do - 'consider yourself' (sorry!) on a mission to foil the modern day Artful Dodgers and keep the hassle of having your phone pinched to a minimum.