Cell phones have become a target for theft in the Ohio State campus area, as some students have been the mark of scams and others have had phones disappear at local bars. One area police division has responded by dedicating officers to finding phones.
In the first half of Fall Semester, there were 20 reports of stolen phones in the OSU campus area, University Police Deputy Chief Richard Morman said. He said last year, during the same time period, there were 25 reports involving 33 phones.
“Out of those incidents, 18 were (items) left unattended,” Morman said. “Either the phone itself was left unattended or (it was) in a backpack.”
Thirteen of the phones were left at recreational areas, such as campus basketball courts.
Some students recently lost their phones in a different setting though.
A female OSU second-year in political science, who wished to remain anonymous for professional reasons, had her phone stolen at a bar early last month.
“I was at Midway on High Street and we were dancing and talking. I had my phone with me … I was by the DJ and set my phone on the DJ (stand). When I looked back up, it was gone,” the student said.
She said in addition to her phone, at least one other student at the bar lost an ID.
“I found a girl’s ID and found (her) on Facebook and (she) had (other) items stolen,” she said.
When she returned to the bar the next day to ask the manager if anyone had turned in her phone, she realized she wasn’t the only person with a missing something.
“They said they didn’t have any phones, but said it was weird because they had six different people asking about their white iPhone being stolen,” the student said.
Some of the reports of stolen phones this academic year, filed between Aug. 18 and Oct. 4, involved multiple victims, Morman said.
Midway on High, located at 1728 N. High St., has certain procedures regarding lost and found items.
“We have a lost and found area behind both bars,” said Andrew Crowell, a manager at Midway. “At the end of the night, we collect the items that patrons or security guards have given us and put (them) behind the bar. We wait a day (to see if someone picks it up) and then we put it in the office.”
The office is open to any Midway employee. For found items, such as an iPhone, employees have the person claiming the device call the phone or identify the case or the home screen. If the device is locked, they will ask them to unlock it, Crowell said.
The bar also places security cameras in both the upstairs area and downstairs area.
“There are cameras everywhere,” Crowell said.
In addition to the cameras, Midway employs a staff of security guards.
“(On busy nights, we usually have) two people upstairs, one downstairs, two patio guys, two door guys and a roamer,” Crowell said. “(It’s) usually a total of seven or eight security guards.”
Public streets, however, do not have security.
Conner Nagel, a second-year in neuroscience, said he was tricked into giving someone his phone. Nagel was out with friends on Indianola Avenue at the beginning of Fall Semester 2012 when a man who looked like a student approached him.
“(He) asked if (he) could borrow my phone so they could call someone to get a ride,” Nagel said. “So I let him and he just took off. I chased him and I didn’t catch him.”
Nagel attempted to locate his phone on the Find My iPhone app but didn’t see a location until the middle of the night.
“I kept checking that on my laptop when I got back and he shut it off, but then at some point in the middle of the night, it got a signal from an apartment complex, and then it was off for good,” Nagel said.
Find My iPhone is a tracking app that will help locate the device on a map. In the app description, it states that an Internet connection is required.
Nagel filed a police report but heard nothing after the initial report.
Daniel Brandt, a fourth-year in sustainability, was in a similar situation when he lent someone his phone in late July. A young man who he said looked like a student ran into Brandt as he was walking down 15th Avenue.
“(He was) looking for a couple of (his) friends, (he) didn’t know where they were and asked if (he) could borrow my phone,” Brandt said. “(He) made a couple phone calls and a car came down 15th and he just took off with my phone.”
Brandt attempted to chase him down but was unable to catch him. When he returned to his house on 15th Avenue and Summit Street, he tried to use Find My Phone.
“I did the Find My iPhone thing to track it, but it didn’t come up,” Brandt said.
The app sounds promising for victims of phone theft but “sometimes the problem is the tracker brings them to a general location,” Morman said.
That general location doesn’t allow law enforcement to accurately locate a stolen device.
“Think of an OSU academic building as an apartment building,” said Commander Bob Meader of the Columbus Division of Police. “Is it apartment F or apartment G? What dorm room is it on? 201 or 203? They aren’t exact.”
When phones are stolen, University Police officers assess the situation on a case-by-case basis.
“We always look for video, we always investigate,” Morman said. “Sometimes the officer will take the initial report and see if there is anything to follow up on. We are always communicating with other agencies along these problems.”
From June to August, Columbus Police had four officers who worked solely on cell phone investigations, Meader said.
The phones have a high turnover rate, money-wise, and a great resell value, Morman said.
Another issue law enforcement has run into are machines called ecoATMs. Similar to Coin Star and Red Box, the machines are located at retail stores such as Walmart and Target and shopping centers like Eastland Mall in Columbus, Meader said.
According to its website, the ecoATM is “an automated, customer self-serve kiosk that quickly evaluates and buys back used consumer electronics directly from consumers for cash.”
Instead of selling items at pawnshops, individuals have taken to “recycling” stolen goods at ecoATMs.
“There are legislatures banning ecoATMs because they are encouraging theft,” Meader said.
Morman had suggestions for students to keep their electronics safe.
“Keep your car door locked. Don’t leave your valuables in your car and don’t leave them in plain sight. Lock your doors in your residence hall … and be aware of your surroundings,” Morman said.
Walking at night while distracted on the phone is also dangerous, Morman said. Although people might feel safer talking to someone on the phone, they are distracted and not paying attention to their surroundings, making them more susceptible to being a victim of theft.
“A growing trend is the snatch-and-grabs,” Meader said. “So the comfort of walking down the street playing dancing thumbs should stop.”
Meader said students should be aware they could be putting themselves at risk by using their phone at night.
“Would you hold out $150 of cash in your hand?” Meader said. “If you aren’t going to hold the cash out, you probably shouldn’t (hold your device).”