FCC: Smartphone thefts in the US exceed one million per year

Ever had a smartphone stolen? You’re not alone — smartphone thefts are a growing problem simply because they’re the most valuable thing most of us are carrying at any time. An FCC report released this week indicated that the number of thefts “considerably exceeds” one million smartphones per year in the United States, but new features like Apple’s Activation Lock are helping to ameliorate the problem.

It’s hard to tell the full extent of the problem because there aren’t official national smartphone theft statistics. Instead, the FCC tapped into data from 21 police departments covering nearly 20 million people and extrapolated that to the rest of the country. According to the FCC, the data suggested that one out of every 10 robberies and thefts in the U.S. involve a mobile device.

The problem is worse in certain areas. In San Francisco, 59 percent of reported robberies in 2013 involved a smartphone. In New York City, that figure is 55 percent.

In 2013, the FCC estimates that 3.1 million Americans had their smartphones stolen — and those numbers even include a reduction in thefts when [company]Apple[/company] introduced Activation Lock, a remote kill switch for iPhones. In fact, these figures could be even higher: Police are concerned that a lot of smartphone thefts go unreported.

Where are all these stolen smartphones going? It’s hard to tell. If the phone had anti-theft features turned on, there’s a good chance it got ditched, perhaps in a charity bin. If the phone doesn’t have security features activated — 34 percent of consumers never turn them on SOURCE? — it’s possible that it headed overseas. From the report:

Anecdotal information seems to strongly suggest that at least a subset of the stolen smartphones are being exported from the United States to countries that are both geographically and politically remote from the U.S.

To fix the problem, the FCC wants mobile companies overseas to start blocking phones reported stolen to the GSMA database, and device makers to start integrating anti-theft features into the activation process. California recently passed a law requiring device makers to have anti-theft features on by default.

In the meantime, you can make sure you’ve got Activation Lock and Find my iPhone turned on if you’re an iPhone user, or Factory Reset Protection if you’ve got a device running [company]Google[/company] Android 5.0. Your carrier or device manufacturer might also have its own anti-theft features.

The complete FCC report is available here.