Tech thieves targeting iPhones on subway

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The 36th and 39th Avenue train stations in Astoria have become targets for iPhone thieves.THE COURIER/Photos by David Beltran
The 36th and 39th Avenue train stations in Astoria have become targets for iPhone thieves.

Residents of Astoria refuse to be frightened by fleeing thieves aiming to filch their phones.

Police say nine iPhones have been stolen along the “N” and “R” train lines since late December, with the most recent incident occurring on February 8. Five of the thefts have occurred in Astoria – three at the 36th Avenue station and two at the neighboring stop on 39th Avenue. Young women were victims in eight of the nine cases, police said.

The NYPD currently has descriptions of three of the suspects involved in the thefts – all black males in their 20s, roughly 6 feet tall and approximately 200 pounds.

A number of residents admitted they were unaware of the trend in their neighborhood, but were not nervous about losing their phones to the bandits.

“I heard that was going on in the city and other places but not here,” said Leticia Huero, a 20-year-old iPhone owner who uses the 36th Avenue station daily. “I’m not really worried about it though – you just have to be careful. I’m not going to be any more vigilant because people should already be vigilant. I might use it a little less now while I’m on the train, but I’ll probably end up still using it after a while.”

Others view the crimes as inevitable, considering the volume of phones out in the open at any given time.

“Yeah, I can see how that happens. People are on their phones all the time and they don’t notice who’s around them,” said Mujammil Ali, 22, who visits the 36th Avenue station twice a day. “People just need to be more careful. They buy these expensive phones but they don’t watch out for thieves.”

Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who represents Astoria and is the chair of the Public Safety Committee, says many of the incidents occur above ground, prior to the train leaving the stations – when thieves snatch a phone and dash out seconds before the doors close.

According to Vallone, the police have responded to the recent rash in iPhone thefts by increasing their subway presence and instituting sting operations designed to nab phone snatchers.

Officers of the 114th Precinct have advised riders to use their phones sparingly, and to hide them whenever they do.

“If you have electronic devices while you are in transit, try not to have them visible. Be aware of your surroundings,” said an officer of the 114th Precinct’s Crime Prevention Unit. “Unfortunately, when you are using an iPhone or iPod, you tend to pay attention to that instead of what’s going on around you, which increases the chances of you becoming a victim. Perpetrators prey on people who aren’t paying attention.”

Additional reporting by David Beltran