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Two recent robberies inside the Penn Patrol Zone are examples of a growing national problem of criminals seeking smartphones.

Stealing iPhones “is almost like stealing cash,” Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said. She described a “major distribution network” that has formed on the black market, making it very easy for criminals to sell stolen iPhones for cash.

This is believed to be the motivation in the string of four armed robberies that occurred in University City on the night of May 9. Three suspects ­— two of whom were arrested — committed a number of robberies at gunpoint, resulting in the theft of eight smartphones in University City that night. Among the victims were five Drexel University students.

However, only one of the May 9 robberies occurred inside the Penn Patrol Zone — an incident at 42nd and Ludlow streets that prompted a UPennAlert.

Four days earlier, at approximately 10:15 p.m. on May 5, an affiliated student was robbed of his smartphone on the 4000 block of Locust Street. The criminal put his hand in his jacket pocket — as if to indicate having a gun — and demanded the student’s phone.

Both of these incidents are part of what Rush calls an “iPhone phenomenon” among criminals, who see the phones as “one of the easiest and hottest items to steal and reappropriate.”

Rush said the problem of phone theft has “not been an astronomical problem in the Penn Patrol Zone,” but she said it is a problem DPS is still looking into, adding that smartphone theft is one part of the issue of unattended theft that the department is trying to combat.

DPS advises students to download an application to their phones in order to track them if they are lost or stolen. One of the Drexel University students whose phone was robbed two weeks ago used one of these apps to track down his phone, which led to two arrests in the string of armed robberies.

The University City District of the Philadelphia Police Department is currently running a campaign aimed at preventing phone theft, which includes signs in some retail stores.

One part of the city that has seen an increase in smartphone theft is urban public transportation systems, particularly subways.

This is an issue SEPTA is “very much aware of,” according to SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch.

To combat this, the agency — which has its own police force — relies on undercover officers who travel in cars, as well as its “robust” system of approximately 12,000 cameras. These cameras are stationed both in train cars and stations.

So far this year, 164 cell phones — the majority of them smartphones — have been stolen on SEPTA. These thefts have led to 32 arrests by the transit agency’s police force.

Busch noted, though, that this problem is not confined to the transit agency.

“This is not just a SEPTA issue — it is a national issue,” he said.

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel has even used his Twitter account to help solve cases of smartphone theft. On Tuesday, he tweeted pictures and the name of a man thought to be responsible for a string of phone snatchings on trains, writing, “Every Transit cop in the city has your picture.”

Some reports have described Philadelphia as a hotbed of smartphone theft. Last November, the insurance company Protect Your Bubble found that Philadelphia had the highest rate of smartphone theft of all U.S. cities.

According to the Protect Your Bubble report, smartphone theft is truly national, as 113 smartphones disappear from their owners every minute in this country.

Rush advised the Penn community to be careful with regards to their smartphones.

“Be mindful when you’re using your phone in public,” she said. “You have an item someone wants to steal and are putting yourself in a riskier situation than normal.”

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